Hubble captures Horsehead nebula in stunning infrared

This new image puts the famous hydrogen-dust cloud in an ethereal light, revealing the horse rearing its head above cosmic whitecaps.

About 1,500 light years from Earth, the Horsehead Nebula is a stellar nursery. NASA

I just rewatched Ridley Scott's " Prometheus ," and I think the soundtrack's opening horn melody would go perfectly with this NASA pic.

The Hubble Space Telescope has photographed the Horsehead Nebula in stunning detail. The nebula, about 1,500 light years away in the constellation of Orion, was imaged in infrared wavelengths against the backdrop of the Milky Way.

The pink cast is from hydrogen gas behind the nebula, which is being lit up by Sigma Orionis, a five-star system.

While it looks less like a horse's head than in some other images in optical light, Hubble's new shot clearly shows the dark mushrooms of the Orion Molecular Cloud, an incubator for the formation of massive stars.

Two new stars are seen in the top ridge of the nebula, and one is emitting "harsh ultraviolet glare" that is slowly evaporating the nebula, NASA noted in a release.

"Gas clouds surrounding the Horsehead already have dissipated, but the tip of the jutting pillar contains a slightly higher density of hydrogen and helium, laced with dust," the agency said.

"This casts a shadow that protects material behind it from being stripped away by intense stellar radiation evaporating the hydrogen cloud, and a pillar structure forms."

The image comes ahead of the 23rd anniversary of the telescope's launch on the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. Its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is due to launch around 2018.

 

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