Swirls of dust detected in Flame nebula

Scientists also measured the mass of stars in the cluster.


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Located in the constellation Orion, about 900 to 1,500 light-years away, the Flame nebula, also known as NGC 2024 and Sh2-277, is an emission nebula. It is a large star-forming nebula. 86% of the newly formed stars have circumstellar disks.

Recently, NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope focused on the dark, dusty heart of the nebula, where a star cluster resides, mostly hidden from view.

NGC 2024
The Flame Nebula, also called NGC 2024, is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex and is found near the Horsehead Nebula. Credits: NASA, ESA, and N. Da Rio (University of Virginia), ESO, DSS2, and D. De Martin; Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

A nearby star, which is not visible in this image, is the bright star Alnitak, the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion. Radiation from Alnitak ionizes the Flame Nebula’s hydrogen gas. As the gas begins to cool from its higher-energy state to a lower-energy state, it emits energy in the form of light, causing the visible glow behind the swirled wisps of dust.

Using Hubble, scientists could measure the mass of stars in the cluster as they search for brown dwarfs.