Saturday, March 14, 2009
This is a depiction of a pair of the most conspicuous objects in the night sky (after major solar system objects). On the left is shown one the most recognizable nebulae of all, the Horsehead Nebula. On the right, the Orion Nebula, an object bright enough to easily seen by the naked eye – it appears as the middle “star” in Orion’s sword. Both are, in fact, parts of the vast Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, an object which, despite being about 1300 light years away, has an apparent size similar to your outstretched hand held at arm’s length in the direction of the constellation of Orion. (Which itself is one of the easiest to find and recognizable patterns in the night sky.) This is one of the most beautiful and keenly observed objects in astronomy. It's a stellar nursery, (in other words a molecular cloud in which stars are actively forming) the closest such in existence, and studied pretty closely as a result.
This is an APOD image. Click the image here for the APOD page, click the image there for a detailed view.