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The Hidden Fires of the Flame Nebula
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Name: Flame Nebula, NGC 2024, Sharpless 277
Description: Emission nebula
Position: RA 5h 41m 42.73s   Dec -1° 54' 44.18"
Constellation: Orion
Distance: 900-1,500 light years
Visual magnitude: 2
Angular dimensions: 30 x 30 arcmin
Field of view: 42.92 x 52.52 arcminutes
Exposure Time: 14 minutes
Orientation: North is 10.0° left of vertical
Image Credits: ESO/J. Emerson/VISTA.& Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit
Release date: December 11, 2009

Infrared view     Visible widefield view      Horsehead nebula
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A new telescope - VISTA (the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) is the latest telescope to be added to ESO's Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. It is housed on the peak adjacent to the one hosting the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) and shares the same exceptional observing conditions. VISTA's main mirror is 4.1 meters across and is the most highly curved mirror of this size and quality ever made - its deviations from a perfect surface are less than a few thousandths of the thickness of a human hair - and its construction and polishing presented formidable challenges.

At the heart of VISTA is a 3-ton camera containing 16 special detectors sensitive to infrared light, with a combined total of 67 million pixels. Observing at wavelengths longer than those visible with the human eye allows VISTA to study objects that are otherwise impossible to see in visible light because they are either too cool, obscured by dust clouds or because they are so far away that their light has been stretched beyond the visible range by the expansion of the Universe. To avoid swamping the faint infrared radiation coming from space, the camera has to be cooled to -200 degrees Celsius and is sealed with the largest infrared-transparent window ever made. The VISTA camera was designed and built by a consortium including the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the UK ATC and the University of Durham in the United Kingdom.

This image, the first to be released publicly from VISTA, the world's largest survey telescope, shows the spectacular star-forming region known as the Flame Nebula, or NGC 2024, in the constellation of Orion (the Hunter) and its surroundings. In views of this evocative object in visible light, the core of the nebula is completely hidden behind obscuring dust, but in this VISTA view, taken in infrared light, the cluster of very young stars at the object's heart is revealed. The wide-field VISTA view also includes the glow of the reflection nebula NGC 2023, just below center, and the ghostly outline of the Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33) towards the lower right. The bright bluish star towards the right is one of the three bright stars forming the Belt of Orion. The image was created from VISTA images taken through J, H and Ks filters in the near-infrared part of the spectrum. The image shows about half the area of the full VISTA field and is about 40 x 50 arcminutes in extent.