This collection of highlights is taken from a new infrared image of the Orion A molecular cloud from the VISTA telescope. Many curious structures are clearly seen, including the red jets from very young stars, dark clouds of dust and even tiny images of very distant galaxies.
The Revealed Beauty Of Orion’s Massive Star Factory
published during a waxing gibbous moon.
01/10/2017

Whether it’s caking that tough-to-reach spot on top of your bookcase or obscuring your view of the night sky, dust can be a frustrating inconvenience. But astronomers have figured out how to “sweep away” the dust in some areas of the sky with the help of infrared telescopes.

orion's massive star factory

A ‘star factory’ located near the constellation Orion. The VISTA telescope recently captured this mosaic of images showing the cloud in unprecedented detail. Credit: ESO/VISION survey

Using the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), researchers at the European Southern Observatory’s VISION project (Vienna Survey of Orion) captured a brand-new image of the Orion A molecular cloud, a vast clouded area that churns out new stars. Located 1350 light years away from Earth, the Orion A molecular cloud is one of two similar clouds located near the constellation Orion. The image is the largest of its kind.

Normally, the dust in these massive clouds makes viewing this region with any clarity all but impossible. Previous images showed bright spots of light, but the dust obscured some of the more delicates structures such as new stars and discs of hot gas. But not this time. By looking at this area of the sky in infrared light, instead of visible light, the researchers were able to spot five new stars, ten new galaxies, and see a lot of familiar faces, such as star clusters, nebulae, and protostellar discs of dust and gas–all in unprecedented detail.

orion's massive star factory

A gorgeous collection of highlights from the massive Orion picture. Clouds of dust are illuminated by bright new stars and the faint light of distant galaxies. Credit: ESO/VISION survey

This image of Orion’s molecular cloud is just the start. Beginning in April 2017, the researchers plan to start work on a new, more ambitious project, VISIONS which plans to take similar close-ups of Orion’s molecular clouds and five other stellar nurseries. The researchers hope to uncover more details about how stars form and grow.

orion's massive star factory

The European Southern Observatory’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy at the Parnal Observatory. Credit: G. Hüdepohl (atacamaphoto.com)/ESO