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See the dramatic and beautiful flame nebula in Orion


The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released a spectacular pair of images showing the dramatic Flame Nebula as seen by a radio telescope. This nebula is located in the constellation of Orion, and it has a beautiful flame-like structure when seen in the radio wavelength.

The image was taken with ESO’s Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope, which gets its name from its location in the Atacama Desert in Chile. This radio telescope is located at a very high elevation of 5,064 meters above sea level, in a very dry region, which helps it to see far out into space without being impeded by water in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Flame Nebula region as seen with APEX and VISTA.
The Flame Nebula region as seen with APEX and VISTA. ESO/Th. Stanke & ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit

Researchers used the SuperCam instrument on APEX, which had recently been installed, and turned it toward Orion to admire the view. “As astronomers like to say, whenever there is a new telescope or instrument around, observe Orion: there will always be something new and interesting to discover!” said researcher Thomas Stanke in a statement.

The image above shows the data collected by APEX in the orange rectangle, with the flame nebula located in the left half and the emission nebula NGC 2023 located on the right. The APEX data is shown on top of an infrared view taken by the ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA).

A similar image was complied also using APEX data but with a background in the visible light wavelength, captured for the Digitized Sky Survey 2 (DSS2), and shown below:

The Flame Nebula region as seen with APEX and the DSS2.
The Flame Nebula region as seen with APEX and the DSS2. ESO/Th. Stanke & ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

Orion is a popular target for astronomers because it has the nearest giant molecular clouds, which are huge structures of mostly hydrogen in which new stars are born. This stellar nursery is seen in the emission nebular next to the Flame Nebula, in which newly born stars give off radiation which causes the gas around them to shine. And despite the fire-like appearance of the Flame Nebula, the gas there is actually cold, at just a fraction above the temperature of absolute zero.

The research will be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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