The Messier 78 nebula (NGC 2068), is often called the reflection nebula, because its
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dust particles reflect the starlight that falls on them. These pockets of dust typically hide more interesting cosmic objects, but the new photo of Messier 78 and its surroundings demonstrates the beauty of dust particles in space. Dense clouds of gas and dust are important to astronomers because they are the birthplaces of new stars. The new image was made from observations by the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope, which is located in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The telescope detects the heat glow of interstellar dust grains, which enables astronomers to see where new stars are being formed. Messier 78 is located in the center of the image. When seen in visible light, the reflected pale blue glow of starlight shines against the dust clouds. In the newly released image, another reflection nebula, called NGC 2071, can be seen at the top. This nebula contains a massive young star that is estimated to be five times the mass of the sun. This star is located in the brightest peak seen in the APEX observations. The lower regions of the image contain mostly low-mass young stars. The observations from APEX are overlaid on the visible-light image in orange. The telescope is sensitive to longer wavelengths, revealing the gentle glow of dense, frigid clumps of dust. In visible light, these veils of dust are dark and opaque, which is why telescopes such as APEX are critical for studying the dusty regions where stars are born.