Orion offers you a spectacular fireworks display to celebrate the end of year holidays and the new year in this new image of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). But don’t worry, this iconic constellation does not explode or burn. The “fire” you see in this holiday postcard is Orion’s Flame Nebula and its surroundings captured by radio waves – an image that no doubt does justice to the nebula’s name! It was taken with the Atacama Pathfinder (APEX) experiment operated by ESO, located on the cold Chajnantor Plateau in the Atacama Desert in Chile.
The newly processed image of the Flame Nebula, in which also appear smaller nebulae like the Horse’s Head Nebula, is based on observations by former ESO astronomer Thomas Stanke and his team there a few years ago. Excited to try out the SuperCam instrument then recently installed at APEX, they pointed it at the constellation Orion. “As astronomers like to say, every time there’s a new telescope or instrument, watch Orion – there will always be something new and interesting to discover!” Stanke said. A few years and many observations later, Stanke and his team have now had their results accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
One of the most famous regions of the sky, Orion is home to the giant molecular clouds closest to the Sun – vast cosmic objects composed mostly of hydrogen, where new stars and planets are formed. These clouds are located between 1300 and 1600 light years away and feature the most active star nursery in the vicinity of the Solar System, as well as the Flame Nebula depicted in this image. This “emission” nebula shelters at its center a cluster of young stars which emit high-energy radiation, making the surrounding gases glow.
With such an exciting goal, the team was unlikely to be disappointed. In addition to the Flame Nebula and its surroundings, Stanke and his collaborators were able to admire a wide range of other spectacular objects. Some examples include the Messier 78 and NGC 2071 reflection nebulae – clouds of interstellar gas and dust believed to reflect light from nearby stars. The team even discovered a new nebula, a small object, remarkable for its almost perfectly circular appearance, which they named the Cow Nebula.
The observations were carried out as part of the APEX Large CO Heterodyne Orion Legacy Survey (ALCOOLS), which examined the radio waves emitted by carbon monoxide (CO) in Orion clouds. Using this molecule to probe large areas of the sky is SuperCam’s primary goal, as it allows astronomers to map large clouds of gas that give rise to new stars. Contrary to what the “fire” in this image might suggest, these clouds are in fact cold, with temperatures typically a few tens of degrees above. absolute zero.
Given the many secrets it can reveal, this region of the sky has been scanned several times in the past at different wavelengths, each range of wavelengths revealing different and unique characteristics of the molecular clouds of the sky. ‘Orion. One example is infrared observations made with ESO’s Visible and Infrared Investigative Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at Paranal Observatory in Chile which forms the peaceful background for this image of the Nebula in the flame and its surroundings. Unlike visible light, infrared waves travel through thick clouds of interstellar dust, allowing astronomers to spot stars and other objects that would otherwise remain hidden.
So, this holiday season, step into the New Year with this spectacular multi-wavelength fireworks display hosted by the Orion Flame Nebula, presented by ESO!
Reference: “The APEX Large CO Heterodyne Orion Legacy Survey (ALCOOLS). I. Survey Overview ”by Thomas Stanke, HG Arce, J. Bally, P. Bergman, J. Carpenter, CJ Davis, W. Dent, J. Di Francesco, J. Eislöffel, D. Froebrich, A. Ginsburg, M. Heyer, D. Johnstone, D. Mardones, MJ McCaughrean, ST Megeath, F. Nakamura, MD Smith, A. Stutz, K. Tatematsu, C. Walker, JP Williams, H. Zinnecker, BJ Swift, C. Kulesa, B Peters, B. Duffy, J. Kloosterman, UA Yildiz, JL Pineda, C. De Breuck and Th. Klein, accepted, Astronomy & Astrophysics.
The observations mentioned in this press release are presented in an article accepted for publication in Astronomy and astrophysics.
The team is composed of Th. Stanke (European Southern Observatory, Garching bei München, Germany [ESO]), HG Arce (Department of Astronomy, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA), J. Bally (CASA, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA), P. Bergman (Department of Space, Earth and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Onsala Space Observatory, Onsala, Sweden), J. Carpenter (Joint ALMA Observatory, Santiago, Chile [ALMA]), CJ Davis (National Science Foundation, Alexandria, VA, USA), W. Dent (ALMA), J. Di Francesco (NRC Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics, Victoria, BC, Canada [HAA] and Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada [UVic]), J. Eislöffel (Thu¨ringer Landessternwarte, Tautenburg, Germany), D. Froebrich (School of Physical Sciences, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK), A. Ginsburg (Department of Astronomy, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA), M. Heyer (Department of Astronomy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA), D. Johnstone (HAA and UVic), D. Mardones (Departamento de Astronomía, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile), MJ McCaughrean (European Space Agency, ESTEC, Noordwijk, Netherlands), ST Megeath (Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Toledo, OH, USA), F. Nakamura (National Astronomical Observatory , Tokyo, Japan), MD Smith (Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, School of Physical Sciences, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK), A. Stutz (Departmento de Astronomía, Facultad de Ciencias Físicas y Matemáticas, Universidad de Concepción, Chile ), K. Tatematsu (Nobeyama Radio Observatory, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, National Institutes of Natural Sciences, Nagano, Japan), C. Walker (Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, US [SO]), JP Williams (Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, HI, USA), H. Zinnecker (Universidad Autonoma de Chile, Santiago, Chile), BJ Swift (SO), C. Kulesa (SO), B Peters (SO), B. Duffy (SO), J. Kloosterman (University of Southern Indiana, Evansville, IN, USA), UA Yildiz (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA [JPL]), JL Pineda (JPL), C. De Breuck (ESO) and Th. Klein (European Southern Observatory, Santiago, Chile).
APEX is a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), Onsala Space Observatory (OSO) and ESO. The operation of APEX in Chajnantor is entrusted to ESO.
SuperCAM is a project of the Steward Observatory Radio Astronomy Laboratory at the University of Arizona, USA.