NASA captured images of the iconic horse-shaped nebula in unprecedented detail

NASA captured images of the iconic horse-shaped nebula in unprecedented detail
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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope captured unprecedented images of the Horsehead Nebula. (POT)

He James Webb Space Telescope of the POT captured the sharpest infrared images to date of an enlarged section of the Horsehead Nebularevealing unprecedented details of this iconic celestial object.

NASA describes the nebula like a giant cloud of dust and gas in space. Some nebulae come from gas and dust ejected by the explosion of a dying star, such as a supernova. Other nebulae are regions where new stars begin to form.

The observations, centered on the upper part of the “mane” of the nebula, revealed the complexity of this region with unprecedented spatial resolutionaccording to the study published this Tuesday, April 30, 2024 in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The Horsehead Nebulaalso known as Barnard 33is located approximately 1,300 light years away in the constellation of Orionwithin the dense region known as the molecular cloud of Orion B.

James Webb’s technology revealed details of the structure of the Horsehead Nebula with unprecedented clarity. (POT)

According to information from the US space agency, this nebula formed from a collapsed interstellar cloud illuminated by a nearby hot star. Although the gas clouds surrounding the Horsehead Nebula have already dissipated, the protruding pillar is composed of thick clumps of material, which makes it more resistant to erosion. Astronomers estimate that the nebula is about five million years before it also disintegrates.

The Horsehead Nebula is a photodissociation region (PDR)where ultraviolet (UV) light from young, massive stars creates a mostly neutral, warm area of ​​gas and dust between the fully ionized gas surrounding massive stars and the clouds in which they were born.


The instruments MIRI and NIRCam of the telescope James Webb revealed in detail the small-scale structures of the illuminated shore of the nebula. According to scientists, as UV light evaporates the dust cloud, dust particles are dragged away from the cloud, carried with the hot gas.

This phenomenon has allowed astronomers to investigate how the dust blocks and emits light, providing a deeper understanding of the nebula’s multidimensional shape.

Ultraviolet light plays a crucial role in the evolution of dust and gas in the Horsehead Nebula. (POT)

Studying this data is crucial to understanding how radiation interacts with interstellar matter.. Given its proximity and its almost edge-on geometry, the Horsehead Nebula offers an ideal objective for the analysis of the physical structures of the PDR and the molecular evolution of gas and dust within their environments, as well as the transition regions between them. It is considered one of the best regions of the sky to study these interactions.

Soon, astronomers will focus on analyzing the spectroscopic data collected to obtain information about the evolution of physical and chemical properties of the material observed through the nebula.

The fact that Webb has detected a network of fine features that trace the movement of dust and heated gas opens new avenues for understanding the early and the crucial role that UV radiation plays in star formation.

The light emitted by the PDR offers a unique tool to study the physical and chemical processes that drive the evolution of interstellar matter in our galaxy and throughout the universe, from the early era of vigorous star formation to the present.



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