Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Seeing the Unseeable

By David Reneke

David Reneke’s wrap-up of space and astronomy news.

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This dramatic new image of cosmic clouds in the constellation of Orion reveals what seems to be a fiery ribbon in the sky. This orange glow represents faint light coming from grains of cold interstellar dust, and was observed by the European Southern Observatory’s Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) in Chile.

This spectacular new picture shows just a part of a bigger complex called the Orion Molecular Cloud, in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter), a rich melting pot of bright nebulae, hot young stars and cold dust clouds.

This region is hundreds of light years across and located about 1350 light years from us. The sub-millimetre wavelength glow arising from the cold dust clouds is seen in orange, and is overlaid on a view of the region taken in the more familiar visible light. The dust clouds form beautiful filaments, sheets and bubbles, the effects of stellar winds.

The large bright cloud in the upper right of the image is the well-known Orion Nebula, which is also called Messier 42. It is readily visible to the naked eye as the slightly fuzzy middle “star” in the sword of Orion. The Orion Nebula is the brightest part of a huge stellar nursery where new stars are being born, and is the closest site of massive star formation to Earth.

Astronomers have used these and other data from APEX, along with images from the European Space Agency’s...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.