Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day we feature a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

September 25, 1995

Orion's Horsehead Nebula
Credit: Photograph made from plates taken with the UK Schmidt Telescope.
Color photography by David Malin.
Copyright: Anglo-Australian Telescope Board

Explanation: The black indentation to the red emission nebula seen just to the right of center of the above photograph is one of the most famous features in any nebulae on the sky. Because of its shape, it is known as the Horsehead Nebula. The bright star near the center is located in the belt of the familiar constellation of Orion. The horse head feature is dark because it is really a dense dust cloud which lies in front of the bright nebula and blocks the light. Like clouds in our sky, this cosmic cloud has chanced to assume a recognizable shape. After thousands of years, the internal motions of the cloud will alter its appearance. The emission nebula's red color is caused by electrons recombining with protons to form hydrogen atoms. Also visible in the picture are blue reflection nebulae. This type of nebula contains dust which preferentially reflects the blue light of nearby stars.

Tomorrow's picture: Star Trails in Southern Skies

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (GMU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA).
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