A Horsehead of a Different Color


horseheadofadifferentcolorhorsehead_cThe Hubble Space Telescope took the data used to make the photograph above of the iconic Horsehead Nebula. The nebula has been a staple image in astronomy books for a century or so. While it’s shadowy in visible light (at left), it appears transparent and ethereal when photographed at infrared wavelengths, popping out against a backdrop of stars and distant galaxies visible in infrared light.

Image Credit: NASA

Three Views of the Horsehead Nebula


The Horsehead Nebula (aka Barnard 33) is a dark nebula in the constellation Orion. It’s found just to the south of the star Alnitak, the east-most star on Orion’s Belt. It’is part of the much larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The nebula was first recorded in 1888 by Scottish astronomer Williamina Fleming on photographic plate B2312 taken at the Harvard College Observatory. That black-and-white image is shown on the left. The one on the left below is a modern color image of the nebula. On the right is an infrared image recently taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Horsehead Nebula (1888)


Horsehead (1888)This picture of the Horsehead Nebula was taken by William Henry Pickering in 1888. The Horsehead Nebula (also known as Barnard 33 ) is a dark nebula in the constellation Orion. It is one of the most identifiable nebulae because of the shape of its cloud of dark dust and gases which looks a bit like a horse’s head as seen from Earth.

Image Credit: Public Domain

A Horsehead of a Different Color


This video presents a visualization of the Horsehead Nebula as seen in infrared light. The central Hubble image has been augmented by ground-based observations from the European Southern Observatory’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA). The stars distributed in the three-dimensional environment in an approximate and statistical manner. While it’s no 100%-accurate, the computer graphics are intended to be scientifically reasonable.

The Horsehead Nebula is a dark cloud of dense gas and dust located just below Orion’s belt. Visible light shows a strong silhouette resembling a horse’s head as used for a knight in chess. As seen at left with infrared light we can see more deeply into the clouds, revealing a more complex scene. The warm parts of the clouds glow in infrared light, and a dark and relatively featureless scene is revealed as a glowing gaseous landscape.

Video Credit: NASA

Herschel’s View of the Horsehead Nebula


Horsehead_Nebula (Herschel)

ZoomHorseHeadThis image from ESA’s Herschel space observatory shows the Horsehead Nebula in the context of its surroundings. The image is a composite of the infrared wavelengths of 70 µm (blue), 160 µm (green) and 250 µm (red), and covers 4.5 x 1.5 degrees of the night sky.

The Horsehead Nebula is in the constellation Orion about 1300 light-years away and is part of the vast Orion Molecular Cloud complex. The Horsehead appears to rise above the surrounding gas and dust in the far right-hand side of this scene, and points towards the bright Flame Nebula. Intense radiation streaming away from newborn stars heats up the surrounding dust and gas, making it shine brightly in infrared.

Image Credit: ESA

A Horsehead of a Different Color


horseheadofadifferentcolorhorsehead_cThe Hubble Space Telescope was launched 23 years ago. Astronomers have used Hubble to make the above photograph of the iconic Horsehead Nebula in infrared light to mark the anniversary. The Horsehead Nebula has been a staple image in astronomy books for a century or so. While it’s shadowy in visible light (at left), it appears transparent and ethereal when photographed at infrared wavelengths as it pops out against a backdrop of stars and distant galaxies visible in infrared light.

Image Credit: NASA

The Horsehead Nebula


Clouds of interstellar dust drift through our galaxy, blown about by stellar wind and radiation. Mostly, these clouds appear as random shapes, but some have forms that remind us of earthly objects. The Horsehead Nebula it is embedded in the immense complex of star-forming gas and dust surrounding the Orion Nebula about 1,500 light-years from Earth. The dark nebula is cataloged as Barnard 33 and is visible because its dust is silhouetted against the bright emission nebulae which lie farther away from us. The prominent horse head portion of the nebula is really protrusion from a larger cloud of dust which can be seen extending off the bottom of the picture. The nebula is a difficult object to view with a small instrument. This color image is a montage of exposures made with a digital camera and astronomical BVR filters using a 1-meter diameter telescope.

Image Credit: U. S. Naval Observatory