One of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, this panoramic view of the Orion Nebula—just 1,500 light years from our own solar system and on the same spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy—is a composite made from many exposures over several months. Stars are born in nebulas like this one, as clouds of hydrogen gas coalesce into progressively denser and hotter clusters that eventually ignite in a fusion reaction. More than 3,000 stars appear in this image, including hundreds of young ones, allowing the systematic study of the various stages in this extraordinary process. The Hubble’s views of the nebula also enabled astronomers to see protoplanetary disks, the stuff from which planets are thought to form and, for the first time, “brown dwarfs,” failed stars that were not dense or hot enough to sustain fusion.
Image courtesy of NASA/STSci
The cosmic drama, as seen from a vantage in space: Harvard astronomers highlight important images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope