New images from ESA's Planck space observatory reveal the forces driving star formation and give astronomers a way to understand the complex physics that shape the dust and gas in our Galaxy. Star formation takes place hidden behind veils of dust but that doesn't mean we can't see through them. Where optical telescopes see only black space, Planck's microwave eyes reveal myriad glowing structures of dust and gas. Now, Planck has used this ability to probe two relatively nearby star-forming regions in our Galaxy.The Orion region is a cradle of star formation, some 1500 light-years away. It is famous for the Orion Nebula, which can be seen by the naked eye as a faint smudge of pink.
Astronomers have their eyes on a hot group of young stars, watching their every move like the paparazzi. A new infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the bustling star-making colony of the Orion nebula, situated in the hunter's sword of the famous constellation. Like Hollywood starlets, the cosmic orbs don't always shine their brightest, but vary over time. Spitzer is watching the stellar show, helping scientists learn more about why the stars change, and to what degree planet formation might play a role.
The Orion Nebula reveals many of its hidden secrets in a dramatic image taken by ESO's new VISTA survey telescope. The telescope's huge field of view can show the full splendour of the whole nebula and VISTA's infrared vision also allows it to peer deeply into dusty regions that are normally hidden and expose the curious behaviour of the very active young stars buried there. VISTA - the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy - is the latest addition to ESO's Paranal Observatory. It is the largest survey telescope in the world and is dedicated to mapping the sky at infrared wavelengths. The large (4.1-metre) mirror, wide field of view and very sensitive detectors make VISTA a unique instrument. This dramatic new image of the Orion Nebula illustrates VISTA's remarkable powers.
When 18th century French astronomer and comet-hunter Charles Messier aimed his telescope at the middle star in the Sword of Orion, he thought he might have discovered a new comet. The object certainly had the fuzzy appearance of a comet, but to Messier's dismay, it turned out to be a false alarm. He had instead made an independent discovery of what now is known as the Great Orion Nebula.