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Hubble peers into 'dark, dusty heart' of the stunning Flame Nebula

Behold the beauty of gas, dust and stars.

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The Hubble Space Telescope captured this ghostly view of the heart of the Flame Nebula.
NASA, ESA, and N. Da Rio (University of Virginia); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

In case you need a reminder of just how special the Hubble Space Telescope is, please gaze into this newly released view of the "dark, dusty heart" of the Flame Nebula

The Flame Nebula, more formally known as NGC 2024, is in the Orion constellation 1,400 light-years from us. Hubble's view highlights a star cluster tucked into a shadowy region of the nebula. NGC 2024 is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a place of active star formation.

NASA shared the image on Monday along with a statement from the European Space Agency. NASA and ESA jointly operate Hubble. The release coincides with the Hubble team's #NebulaNovember campaign, which features an eye-popping assortment of nebula images shared over social media.

There's a special guest star, Alnitak, that's not visible in the image, but it has a big impact on the nebula's appearance. "Radiation from Alnitak ionizes the Flame Nebula's hydrogen gas," ESA said. "As the gas begins to cool from its higher-energy state to a lower-energy state, it emits energy in the form of light, causing the visible glow behind the swirled wisps of dust."  

As part of Orion's belt, Alnitak is a familiar sight for stargazers on Earth. So the next time you find Orion in the night sky, look to the easternmost bright star in the belt and think about Hubble and the glory of the Flame Nebula.