The Orion Nebula is a tumultuous region of dust and gas where thousands of stars are being born. Located 1,300 light-years away, it is the nearest area of star formation to Earth. In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, Hubble captured an unprecedented look at this nebula.
More than 3,000 stars of various sizes appear in this image. Some have never before been seen in visible light. These stars reside in a dramatic landscape of plateaus, mountains, and valleys. From the massive, young stars that are shaping the nebula to the pillars of dense gas that may be the homes of budding stars, this image offers a glimpse at the various stages of star formation.
The bright central region is the home of the four most massive stars in the nebula. The stars are called the Trapezium because they are arranged in a trapezoid pattern. Ultraviolet light unleashed by these stars is carving a cavity in the nebula and influencing the growth of hundreds of smaller stars.
Located near the Trapezium are stars still young enough to have disks of material encircling them. These disks are called protoplanetary disks or “proplyds” and are too small to see clearly in this image. The disks are the building blocks of planetary systems.
The bright glow at upper left is from M43, a small region being shaped by a massive, young star’s ultraviolet light. Next to M43 are dense, dark pillars of dust and gas that point toward the Trapezium. These pillars, which appear subtle against the dark background, are resisting erosion from the Trapezium’s intense ultraviolet light. The glowing region on the right reveals arcs and bubbles formed when stellar winds — streams of charged particles ejected from the Trapezium stars — collide with material.
The faint red stars near the bottom are the myriad brown dwarfs that Hubble spied for the first time in visible light. Sometimes called “failed stars,” brown dwarfs are cool objects that are too small to be ordinary stars because they cannot sustain nuclear fusion in their cores the way our Sun does. They are much like free-floating, larger versions of the planet Jupiter.
Astronomers used 520 Hubble images, taken in five colors with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, to make this picture. They also added ground-based photos to fill out the nebula. The mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.
A scientific team led by Massimo Robberto of the Space Telescope Science Institute obtained the mosaic observations to study the stellar content of the nebula. In addition to finding stars that formed about 2 million years ago, the specific motions of the stars were measured and an investigation to conduct a census of brown dwarfs and planet-sized objects was initiated.
Distance: 1,300 light-years
Instrument: ACS and ESO MPI 2.2m La Silla WFI
Image Filters: ACS: F435W (B), F555W (V), F658N (H-alpha), F775W (i), F850LP(z);
ESO: ESO842 (B), ESO856 (H-alpha), ESO857 ([S II]), ESO859 ([O III])