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Starts With A Bang

Deepest View Of The Orion Nebula Reveals Shocking Discoveries

This spectacular image of the Orion Nebula star-formation region was obtained from multiple exposures using the HAWK-I infrared camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. Image credit: ESO/H. Drass et al.

The infrared reveals stars — and a surprising population of failed stars — we’ve never seen before.


“…innumerable stars, thousands of double and multiple systems, clusters in one blaze with their tens of thousands of stars, and the nebulae amazing us by the strangeness of their forms and the incomprehensibility of their nature, till at last, from the limit of our senses, even these thin and airy phantoms vanish in the distance.” –Mary Fairfax Greig Somerville

The Orion Nebula is the nearest region of massive star formation to Earth, located just 1,344 light years away.

With over 1,000 new stars discovered inside, mostly through the power of high-resolution visible light imaging, we had thought that low-mass, red dwarf stars were the most common type formed.

The visible-light image composite created by the Hubble Space Telescope team back in 2004–2006. Image credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team.

But a new, deeper view was just taken by the ESO’s HAWK-I instrument, revealing a plethora of previously undiscovered, even lower-mass objects.

The evaporating dust at the edge of the Orion Nebula, where new stars are still forming. Image credit: ESO/H. Drass et al.

Ten times as many brown dwarfs were found compared to what previous studied had seen, and the density of these failed stars was found to vary tremendously across where in the nebula we looked.

The brightest regions house not only the most massive, brightest stars, but many other, fainter objects abound throughout the nebula. Image credit: ESO/H. Drass et al.

This find is most exciting for scientists who want to study rogue or orphaned planets, since it indicates there may be hundreds or even thousands of gas-and-rocky worlds forming for each new star.

The dusty regions that visible-light telescopes cannot penetrate are revealed by the infrared views of ESO’s HAWK-I instrument. Image credit: ESO/H. Drass et al.

Closer, less active star forming regions don’t show these low-mass objects in the same way, as they’re more similar to Orion’s wispiest outskirts.

The outskirts of the Orion Nebula, where new stars and worlds are still forming and growing, much more slowly than in the inner regions. Image credit: ESO/H. Drass et al.

It’s the most active, centrally-located regions that appear to house the biggest surprises in this regard.

The infrared view of the brightest part of the Orion Nebula, color-corrected by E. Siegel. Image credit: ESO/H. Drass et al.

With the next generation of 30-meter-class telescopes, we expect to begin imaging these sought-after worlds directly.

Highlights from the deep infrared view of the Orion Nebula. Image credit: ESO/H. Drass et al.

Mostly Mute Monday tells the story of a single astronomical phenomenon or object primarily in visuals, with no more than 200 words of text.

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