NGC 2174, commonly known as the Monkey Head Nebula, is located about 6400 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter), close to the border with the Gemini constellation. The nebula, about 50 light years across, is a violent stellar nursery, packed with the ingredients needed for star formation. However, the recipe for cooking up new stars isn’t very efficient and most of the ingredients are wasted as the cloud of gas and dust disperses. This process is accelerated by the presence of fiercely hot young stars in the central region that trigger high velocity winds that help to blow the gas outwards.
A vibrant palette of colours can be seen in this new image of NGC 2174. Dark brown and rust-coloured dust clouds billow outwards, framed against a background of bright blue gas. These striking hues are formed by combining several Hubble images taken with different coloured filters, to reveal a broad range of colours not normally visible to the human eye. The icing on this cosmic cake takes the form of young white and pink stars sprinkled amongst the glowing clouds, pushing away the dark stellar nurseries in which they formed. The key ingredient in NGC 2174 is hydrogen gas, which is ionised by the ultraviolet radiation emitted by the young stars. As a result, this region is also known as an HII region — a large cloud of ionised gas.
The Hubble mosaic unveils a collection of carved knots of gas and dust in a small portion of the Nebula. On the left is a ground-based image of the star-forming nebula in visible light. On the right, is an infrared light view of a collection of star-forming pillars along one edge of the nebula captured by Hubble’s WFC3 infrared camera. Pockets of higher density gas resist the erosion from strong stellar winds emanating from the center of the nebula, and form pillars and peaks along the inner edge of the roughly circular cloud, some nearly a light year or more in length.
Credits: Astrofreude-Franken, Hubble, Sci-News, Space, Wikipedia.