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The Region of Orion’s Belt
and the Flame Nebula
(visible light)
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Name: Flame Nebula, NGC 2024, Sharpless 277
Description: Emission nebula
Position: RA 05h 41m 28.55s  Dec. -1° 43' 25.77"
Constellation: Orion
Distance: 900–1,500 light years
Visual magnitude: 2
Angular dimensions: 30 x 30 arcmin
Field of view: 179.14 x 163.75 arcminutes
Exposure Time: 14 minutes
Orientation: North is 0.0° left of vertical
Image Credits: ESO and Digitized Sky Survey 2. ACK: Davide De Martin
Release date: December 11, 2009

Infrared view     Visible widefield view      
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A new telescope — VISTA (the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) — has just started work at ESO’s Paranal Observatory and has made its first release of pictures. VISTA is a survey telescope working at infrared wavelengths and is the world’s largest telescope dedicated to mapping the sky. Its large mirror, wide field of view and very sensitive detectors will reveal a completely new view of the southern sky.

Because VISTA is a large telescope that also has a large field of view it can both detect faint sources and also cover wide areas of sky quickly. Each VISTA image captures a section of sky covering about ten times the area of the full Moon and it will be able to detect and catalogue objects over the whole southern sky with a sensitivity that is forty times greater than that achieved with earlier infrared sky surveys such as the highly successful Two Micron All-Sky Survey. This jump in observational power — comparable to the step in sensitivity from the unaided eye to Galileo’s first telescope — will reveal vast numbers of new objects and allow the creation of far more complete inventories of rare and exotic objects in the southern sky.

The first released image shows the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024), a spectacular star-forming cloud of gas and dust in the familiar constellation of Orion (the Hunter) and its surroundings. In visible light the core of the object is hidden behind thick clouds of dust, but the VISTA image, taken at infrared wavelengths, can penetrate the murk and reveal the cluster of hot young stars hidden within.

This spectacular visible light wide-field view of part of the famous belt of the great celestial hunter Orion shows the region of the sky around the Flame Nebula. The whole image is filled with glowing gas clouds illuminated by hot blue young stars. One outstanding feature is the prominent Horsehead nebula, a dark nebula just below the center of the image. This composite image was created from photographs in red and blue light forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The field of view is approximately three degrees.