The Orion Nebula, the middle jewel in the "sword" of the constellation Orion, is one of the most avidly photographed objects in the night sky. Located roughly 1,300 light years from Earth and stretching 24 light years across, this active stellar nursery has captivated skywatchers from around the world with its radiant clusters of infant stars surrounded by silky sheets of collapsing gas and dust.
The nebula is most popularly imaged in wide-shots, but pictures that hone in on individual structures within the cluster can be just as eye-catching. Take the cover picture, which captures a colossal filament made of stellar ingredients like ammonia gas that stretches out for 50 light years like some kind of cosmic serpent. (Anyone playing Breath of the Wild might be reminded of Dinraal, the Eldin dragon.)
The image was created by astronomers co-led by Rachel Friesen of the University of Toronto's Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics and Jaime Pineda of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. It was released on Thursday, in tandem with research in the Astrophysical Journal presenting the first results of the Green Bank Ammonia Survey (GAS), a major effort to trace molecular ammonia in star-forming regions using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Virginia.
The goal is to amass much more detailed observations of ammonia in the Gould Belt, a group of young stars and star-forming regions about 500 parsecs around the solar system. From there, astronomers can better constrain the dynamics and evolution that regulate star birth and development.
The fact that they also produce spectacular visuals is just icing on the astronomical cake.
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