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Click to see selection as Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) - April 26, 2001
Rising from a sea of dust and gas like a giant seahorse, the Horsehead
nebula is one of the most photographed objects in the sky. NASA's Hubble
Space Telescope took a close-up look at this heavenly icon, revealing
the cloud's intricate structure. This detailed view of the horse's head
is being released to celebrate the orbiting observatory's eleventh
anniversary. Produced by the Hubble Heritage Project, this picture is a
testament to the Horsehead's popularity. Internet voters selected this
object for the orbiting telescope to view.
The Horsehead, also known as Barnard 33, is a cold, dark cloud of gas
and dust, silhouetted against the bright nebula, IC 434. The bright
area at the top left edge is a young star still embedded in its nursery
of gas and dust. But radiation from this hot star is eroding the stellar
nursery. The top of the nebula also is being sculpted by radiation from
a massive star located out of Hubble's field of view.
Only by chance does the nebula roughly resemble the head of a horse. Its
unusual shape was first discovered on a photographic plate in the late
1800s. Located in the constellation Orion, the Horsehead is a cousin of
the famous pillars of dust and gas known as the Eagle nebula. Both
tower-like nebulas are cocoons of young stars.
The Horsehead nebula lies just south of the bright star Zeta Orionis,
which is easily visible to the unaided eye as the left-hand star in the
line of three that form Orion's Belt. Amateur astronomers often use the
Horsehead as a test of their observing skills; it is known as one of the
more difficult objects to see visually in an amateur-sized telescope.
The magnificent extent of the Horsehead is best appreciated in a new
wide-field image of the nebula being released today by the National Optical
Astronomy Observatory, taken by Travis Rector with the National Science
Foundation's 0.9 meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near
This popular celestial target was the clear winner among more than 5,000
Internet voters, who were asked last year to select an astronomical
target for the Hubble telescope to observe. The voters included
students, teachers, and professional and amateur astronomers.
This 11th anniversary release image was composed by the Hubble Heritage
Team, which superimposed Hubble data onto ground-based data (limited to
small triangular regions around the outer edge of the image). Ground-based
image courtesy of Nigel A. Sharp (NOAO/AURA/NSF) taken at the 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak.
April 24, 2001
Image Credit: NASA, NOAO, ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)