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Hubble Space Telescope Peeks Into Mysterious 'Keyhole' in Space

An unexplained rift haunts a nebula.

Ethereal view of a ghostly cloud with a dark, open spot in the center like a keyhole showing the dark of space behind.
A mysterious dark "keyhole" appears in reflection nebula NGC 1999. 
ESA/Hubble & NASA, ESO, K. Noll

I love a good space mystery. A dark "keyhole" splotch in the midst of nebula NGC 1999 in the Orion constellation has turned out to be a science head scratcher. The Hubble Space Telescope captured an ethereal view of the nebula, a huge cloud of dust and gas created by the formation of a star. 

NASA shared the view on Friday along with commentary from the European Space Agency. Here's the full image:

NGC 1999 has a mysterious void in the middle that acts like a window.

ESA/Hubble & NASA, ESO, K. Noll

"Just like fog curling around a streetlamp, reflection nebulae like NGC 1999 shine by the light from an embedded source," ESA said poetically. The nebula's light source is a baby star named V380 Orion. It's shining in the center of the image just to the left of the dark keyhole.

The newly released image comes from a revisiting of older Hubble data from 1999. Back then, scientists thought the dark hole was likely a cloud of gas and dust blocking out light. Further study with data from other telescopes showed the keyhole is actually an empty region, more like an open window. "The origin of this unexplained rift in the heart of NGC 1999 remains unknown," ESA said. 

Hubble is a joint project from NASA and ESA with over three decades of space observations under its belt. Ghostly NGC 1999 and its mysterious heart of darkness is a perfect fit for Halloween.