Hubble Reveals Orion in
The Orion Nebula:
Clearest view yet
Imagine visiting a hospital to see thousands
of babies being born at the same time. The weight of these
newborns ranges from a few pounds to a ton (2,000 pounds).
Does this story seem possible? The story may not be possible
for babies, but it is an ordinary event for stars.
In fact, the Hubble Space Telescope is giving us the clearest view yet
of a turbulent star-forming region where more than 3,000 stars are being
born. The region, called the Orion Nebula, is the closest stellar nursery to Earth.
What's in a name?
It is called “Orion” for its location and “Nebula” because
it is a cloud of gas and dust. The nebula resides along a spiral arm of
the Milky Way, in the middle of the sword region of the constellation Orion,
Orion the Hunter: The
Constellations are imaginary pictures in the sky that ancient civilizations
created. By linking together the brightest stars that appear
close to each other, they formed geometric patterns that represented features
of gods, heroes, animals, and mythological creatures.
Often, ancient people
created myths or stories about why these creatures appear in
the sky. The constellation tales not only provided amusement but also helped
the ancient astronomers remember the positions of the stars. Orion is one
of the constellations that can be seen in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter sky.
Many pictures tell a story
The zoomable Orion : You're
the driver — zoom around the image
Orion, like the Grand Canyon, is so vast that many of its details cannot
be captured in a single picture. Astronomers, therefore, used multiple
images from Hubble and ground-based telescopes to see Orion’s dramatic
landscape of glowing gas and dark dust. The images provide clues to the
nebula’s formation and history.
A perfect star-birth laboratory
Orion is a perfect laboratory for studying the birth of stars because
it is so close to Earth. In this crisp image, astronomers are
discovering a never-before-seen tapestry of star formation. As many as
3,000 stars of various sizes can be seen here. The image shows a typical
star-forming region. Our own Sun was probably born in a cloud like this
one, 4.5 billion years ago.
Why study the Orion Nebula?
Astronomers study star-forming regions to learn how stars are born and
how they change over time. Each star in Orion tells a story and adds to
a fuller picture of star formation.
In stellar nurseries, many stars often form in the same cloud of gas and
dust. The biggest stars begin producing light before the smaller stars.
This means that the energy released by the biggest stars can affect the
smaller, still-forming stars that are near the big stars.
In the case of the Orion Nebula, the big stars in the center have pushed
out most of the dust and gas in which they formed, carving a cavity on
the surface of the dark cloud. The cavity gives astronomers a clear view
of this crowded star-forming region.
By studying this star-studded region, astronomers may be able to answer
many puzzling questions, such as why Orion has such a wide range of star
sizes and how the largest stars affect the growth of smaller ones.