This beautiful image offers a peek inside a cavern of roiling dust and gas where thousands of stars are forming. The image, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, represents the sharpest view ever taken of this region, called the Orion Nebula. More than 3,000 stars of various sizes appear in this image. Some of them have never been seen in visible light.
The bright central region is the home of the four heftiest stars in the nebula. The stars are called the Trapezium because they are arranged in a trapezoid pattern. The bright glow at upper left is from M43, a small region being shaped by a massive, young star’s ultraviolet light. Astronomers call the region a miniature Orion Nebula because only one star is sculpting the landscape. The Orion Nebula has four such stars. Next to M43 are dense, dark pillars of dust and gas that point toward the Trapezium. These pillars are resisting erosion from the Trapezium’s intense ultraviolet light. The glowing region on the right reveals arcs and bubbles formed when stellar winds – streams of charged particles ejected from the Trapezium stars — collide with material. The large cavity near the right of the image was most likely carved by winds from the Trapezium’s stars.
The Orion Nebula is 1,500 light-years away, the nearest star-forming region to Earth. It is the brightest spot in the sword of the Orion, or the “Hunter” constellation. Astronomers used 520 Hubble images, taken in five colors, to make this picture. They also added ground-based photos to fill out the nebula.