The iconic Horsehead Nebula is a staple of modern astronomy. Discovered more than 100 years ago, the nebula is a favorite target for amateur astronomers. The nebula is visible from Earth if using the proper eyepiece and a hydrogen beta filter.
Shadowy in optical light when seen at infrared wavelengths, Horsehead is captivating against the backdrop of the Milky Way.
On the 23rd anniversary of its launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990, the Hubble space telescope returned a new infrared light image of the billowing cloud.
In 2009, the addition of a new imaging tool, the high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3, made this portrait of the Horsehead possible.
Photo by: ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA),NASA
Orion Molecular Cloud
The Horsehead Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud, located about 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, Orion. The cloud also contains other well-known objects, such as the Great Orion Nebula (M42), the Flame Nebula, and Barnard's Loop. It is one of the nearest and most easily photographed regions in which massive stars are being formed.
This composite view shows exposures filtered to record emissions from hydrogen atoms and an array of nebulosities scattered throughout the giant Orion Molecular Cloud complex. The complex itself measures hundreds of light-years across.
A magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (or M42), is seen in the upper-right corner of the picture. Immediately to its left are a cluster of prominent bluish nebulae, which are sometimes called the Running Man. The Horsehead Nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette against the long red glow left of center. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. Completing the trio of Orion's belt stars, bluish Alnilam and Mintaka form a line with Alnitak, extending to the upper left.
Photo by: Robert Gendler
Representative color image
The Horsehead Nebula, embedded in the vast and complex Orion Nebula, is seen in this representative color image from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii. The dark molecular cloud, roughly 1,500 light-years away, is visible only because its obscuring dust is silhouetted against another brighter nebula. The prominent horsehead portion of the nebula is a part of a larger cloud of dust that can be seen extending toward the bottom of the picture.
Above is a composite of the Horsehead region using infrared data from Hubble and from the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the European Southern Observatory. The image was taken by astrophotographer Robert Gendler.
Photo by: Credit: ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit Composite Assembly and Processing: Robert Gendler
Close-up of the Horsehead
A close-up image of the Horsehead Nebula, taken from NASA's Hubble space telescope on April 24, 2001, reveals the cloud's intricate structure.
Photo by: NASA
Barnard 33, also known as the Horsehead Nebula, in the constellation Orion.
Photo by: NASA
Glow of the Horsehead
The beautiful reddish glow seen in many photographs of the Horsehead Nebula comes from the surrounding hydrogen gasses that have been ionized by the nearby star Sigma Orionis.
Photo by: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)