spaceSpace and Physics

VISTA Uncovers New Secrets In The Orion Nebula


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockJan 4 2017, 11:00 UTC

The Orion Molecular Cloud Complex as seen by VISTA. ESO/VISION survey

The mysteries of the universe are not always found in far away and unusual objects, sometimes they are hidden in familiar objects. Such is the case of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, which is helping astronomers to finally understand exactly how stars form.

The latest observation by the VISTA infrared telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile has produced an incredible near-infrared high-resolution mosaic of the central region, known as the Orion A molecular cloud. It has collected so much information to have an almost exhaustive idea of the star-formation in the region.


The telescope can see what would be invisible by visible light. It spotted newly born stars still enshrined in dust, disks of material that could form stars and even never-before-seen star clusters. Infrared light is not affected by the cloudiness of the nebula and VISTA has seen all of this and more.

Understanding how stars of different mass came to be in the Orion Nebula is very important to improve the current theories of star formation. Their difference clearly depends on what's going on in the cloud and in-depth observations have produced crucial new data on both low and high mass stars.

The spectacular new image, which you can see above, shows the Orion Nebula (also known as M42), the most famous part of the Molecular Cloud Complex, to the left as well as the complex tendrils of gas that stretch from and around it.


The famous system, traditionally seen as the sword dangling from Orion’s belt, is the nearest massive star-forming region to Earth, being just 1,350 light-years from us. For this reason, researchers started VISION (a backronym for Vienna Survey in Orion), which has so far cataloged 800,000 objects, including stars, young stellar objects and even far away galaxies.

The first results from VISION are published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics and confirms earlier studies' predictions that there are between 2,300 and 3,000 young stellar objects in the system. VISION is the most detailed infrared view of the region and it will become the starting point for future studies of the Orion Molecular Cloud.

spaceSpace and Physics
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  • Orion,

  • star formation,

  • Orion Nebula,

  • Orion Molecular Cloud Complex