Orion Nebula

Boeing 747SP Peers Into Orion Nebula Heart

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, snapped two photos of a star-forming region of the Orion nebula, which is also known as M42. The infrared images, taken this past summer, show a complex distribution of stars and interstellar dust. In one photo, outlined by the red box, a single blue source shines especially brightly. This dot is a gigantic protostar known as the BN (Becklin-Neugebauer) Object. The blue, green and red colors in the image represent light with wavelengths of 20, 31, and 37 microns, respectively, which comes mainly from relatively cool interstellar dust. The image in the blue inset box shows the Ney-Allen Nebula.

This region of intense infrared emission harbors young solar-mass stars surrounded by dusty disks, the possible birthing grounds of alien planets. In the blue-bordered image, blue, green and red denote infrared light with wavelengths of 8, 20, and 37 microns, which is coming from material as warm as 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232 degrees Celsius). The large background image is a composite of data gathered by NASA’s Spitzer space telescope, which is also optimized to scan the heavens in the infrared. According to scientists together, the SOFIA and Spitzer pictures provide a comprehensive view of many stages of star formation, from cold interstellar clouds to bona fide stars.