Let’s Revisit An Old “Flame”
It might be an old flame, but it still burns brightly for those who love incredible images of the Orion Complex. It’s one of the most well known names in astronomy as well.
Through the eye of NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), we’re able to witness the “Flame Nebula” lighting up its cavern of dust in a star-forming region near Orion’s belt. However, this is just one of more than a half billion objects which WISE has studied in infrared during its all-sky catalog mission. It has taken a look at everything from asteroids to stars and galaxies… and now it’s busy with its second scan of the sky.
“If you’re an astronomer, then you’ll probably be in hog heaven when it comes to infrared data,” said Edward (Ned) Wright of UCLA, the principal investigator of the WISE mission. “Data from the second sky scan are useful for studying stars that vary or move over time, and for improving and checking data from the first scan.”
In this new WISE image of the Flame Nebula, we take a look at varying channels done in infrared light. The wispy looking areas are sections of the Orion star-forming complex – a vast region of interstellar dust waiting to collapse into new stars. Within the nebula, massive stars are clearing holes in the dust. The central massive star measures out to about twenty times heavier than the Sun and emits intense ultraviolet radiation which carves a cavity out of the region and causes it to glow in infrared light. If we could view it with our eyes, we’d find it to be as bright as Orion’s three most famous stars that make up the “belt”, but the dust cloud dimes it down to four billion times fainter.
However, the “Flame” isn’t the only thing lighting up this image. Nebula NGC 2023 appears as a bright circle in the lower half, while the famous “Horsehead Nebula” fades away to faint memory located to the right of one of the lower, vertical ridges. Look for a bright, red arc to the lower right. That’s the bow shock where multiple-star system Sigma Orionis is pushing material along in front of it.
The most current data released from the WISE mission covers about one-third of its planned second scan of the sky. The images were captured from August to September 2010 as the telescope started to use up its coolant, leaving it to operating with only three of its four detectors. This coolant was designed to keep the telescope chilled to prevent its own heat from interfering with the observations as infrared radiation. During an observing run, the telescope warmed up and one of the four channels on WISE was overcome by infrared radiation. Apparently old flames still burn warmly, too!
Original Story Source: JPL News Release.