Take a flight through the heart of the Orion Nebula to see where stars are born in this stunning NASA video

NASA has combined the staggering images from its Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to create an “unprecedented” 3D fly-through of the Orion Nebula. 

Using both visible and infrared light, the video begins with a wide-field view of the sky showing the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy before zooming into Orion Nebula. The visible light, captured by Hubble, and Spitzer’s infrared light are first shown side-by-side in 2D before being transformed into 3D models. More specifically, Hubble sees objects that glow in visible light, typically in the thousands of degrees. Spitzer is sensitive to cooler objects with temperatures of just hundreds of degrees. 

 The tour of the so-called stellar nursery takes you through a host of newborn stars, glowing clouds heated by radiation and tadpole-shaped gas surrounding protoplanetary disks.

The video was created by combining scientific imagery and data “with Hollywood techniques” by a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the Caltech/Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) in Pasadena, California. As a result, it is the most detailed multi-wavelength visualisation of the nebula. 

The three-minute film is available to watch below and is being shared with planetariums and other science centres to study the formation of stars and learn more about our universe. 

“Being able to fly through the nebula’s tapestry in three dimensions gives people a much better sense of what the universe is really like,” explained the Space Telescope Science Institute’s visualisation scientist Frank Summers, who led the team that developed the film. “By adding depth and structure to the amazing images, this fly-through helps elucidate the universe for the public, both educating and inspiring.”

Orion Nebula: What is it? 

The Orion Nebula is one of the sky’s brightest nebulas. So much so, it’s visible to the naked eye and can be seen as the middle “star” in the constellation Orion, located around 1,350 light-years away.

The nebula is around 2 million years old and NASA refers to it as the “ideal laboratory for studying young stars and stars that are still forming”. For example, it gives a glimpse at what may have happened when the Sun was “born” 4.6 billion years ago.

Within the nebula itself is a cavity, caused by ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from the stars in the Trapezium cluster, 

More visualisations and connections between the science of nebulas and learners can be explored through other products produced by NASA’s Universe of Learning, such as ViewSpace. ViewSpace is a video exhibit currently at almost 200 museums and planetariums across the United States. Visitors can go beyond video to explore the images produced by space telescopes with interactive tools now available for museums and planetariums.

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