The observation was made by the Atacama Pathfinder experiment, which is operated by the European Southern Observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile.
Orion is not just a popular constellation. This region of the sky is also where giant hydrogen clouds lead to the birth of new stars and planets. Molecular clouds are found between 1,300 and 1,600 light years from our home planet.
The Flame Nebula has a cluster of young stars located at its center. These stars emit high energy radiation, causing gas clouds to glow dramatically.
This new take on Orion’s defining characteristics came after the installation of the SuperCam instrument on the Atacama Pathfinder experiment. The instrument is designed to observe molecular clouds found across the Milky Way galaxy. For this particular research, the team used it to research the radio waves released by carbon monoxide in Orion’s clouds.
“As astronomers like to say, every time there’s a new telescope or instrument, watch Orion – there will always be something new and interesting to discover!” Stanke said in a statement.
While observing the Flame Nebula and its surroundings, the researchers also observed clouds reflecting light from nearby stars and discovered a new small circular nebula which they dubbed the Cow Nebula. The SuperCam instrument can help astronomers map these stellar nurseries where stars are born.
The Flame Nebula dominates the left half inside the yellow rectangle in the image below. On the right is a reflection of the NGC 2023 nebula and on the top right is the Horse’s Head nebula.
Swipe back and forth between the images to see the background differences, one captured in infrared light by the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy at the Paranal Observatory in Chile and the other in visible light from the Digitized Sky Survey 2.
Given Orion’s popularity, telescopes have flown over this part of the sky in a multitude of wavelengths of light.
Despite the fiery appearance of the Flame Nebula, the clouds are very cold, reaching only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero. Absolute zero is negative 273.15 degrees Celsius or negative 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit.