Astronomers have used Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope to photograph the iconic Horsehead Nebula in a new, infrared light to mark the 23rd anniversary of the famous observatory’s launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1990.
Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. A favourite target for amateur and professional astronomers, it appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths.
Hubble has been producing ground-breaking science for two decades. During that time, it has beneted from a slew of upgrades from space shuttle missions, including the 2009 addition of a new imaging workhorse, the high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3 that took this new portrait of the Horsehead.
The nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud, located about 1 500 light-years away in the constellation Orion. The cloud also contains other well-known objects such as the Great Orion Nebula (M42), the Flame Nebula and Barnard’s Loop. It is one of the nearest and most easily photographed regions in which massive stars are being formed.