Вадим Дудченко
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Using the recently-installed SuperCam instrument on ESO’s Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) in the Atacama Desert, Chile, astronomers have produced a new radio image of the Flame Nebula.

The Flame Nebula is the large feature on the left half of the central, yellow rectangle. The smaller feature on the right is the reflection nebula NGC 2023. To the top right of NGC 2023, the iconic Horsehead Nebula seems to emerge heroically from the ‘flames.’ The three objects are part of the Orion cloud, a giant gas structure located between 1,300 and 1,600 light-years away. The different colors indicate the velocity of the gas. The Flame Nebula and its surroundings are moving away from us, with the red clouds in the background receding faster than the yellow ones in the foreground. Image credit: ESO / Thomas Stanke / J. Emerson / VISTA / Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit.

The Flame Nebula is located about 1,400 light-years away in the constellation of Orion.

Otherwise known as NGC 2024 and Sh2-277, this emission nebula is 12 light-years wide.

It was discovered by the German-born British astronomer William Herschel on January 1, 1786.

It is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, which includes such famous nebulae as the Horsehead Nebula and the Orion Nebula.

“As astronomers like to say, whenever there is a new telescope or instrument around, observe Orion: there will always be something new and interesting to discover,” said Dr. Thomas Stanke, an astronomer with ESO, and his colleagues.

“One of the most famous regions in the sky, Orion is home to the giant molecular clouds closest to the Sun — vast cosmic objects made up mainly of hydrogen, where new stars and planets form.”

“These clouds are located between 1,300 and 1,600 light-years away and feature the most active stellar nursery in the Solar System’s neighborhood, as well as the Flame Nebula depicted in this image.”

“This emission nebula harbors a cluster of young stars at its center that emit high-energy radiation, making the surrounding gases shine.”

The new observations were conducted as part of the APEX Large CO Heterodyne Orion Legacy Survey (ALCOHOLS), which looked at the radio waves emitted by carbon monoxide (CO) in the Orion clouds.

Using this molecule to probe wide areas of the sky is the primary goal of SuperCam, as it allows astronomers to map large gas clouds that give birth to new stars.

Unlike what the ‘fire’ of the new image might suggest, these clouds are actually cold, with temperatures typically just a few tens of degrees above absolute zero.

“In addition to the Flame Nebula and its surroundings, we were able to admire a wide range of other spectacular objects,” the scientists said.

“Some examples include the reflection nebulae Messier 78 and NGC 2071 — clouds of interstellar gas and dust believed to reflect the light of nearby stars.”

“We even discovered one new nebula, a small object, remarkable in its almost perfectly circular appearance, which we named the Cow Nebula.”

The team’s work was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.


Thomas Stanke et al. 2022. The APEX Large CO Heterodyne Orion Legacy Survey (ALCOHOLS). I. Survey overview. A&A, in press; arXiv: 2201.00463


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