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NICMOS Looks at Orion's Heart

Week of May 26, 1997

Have you ever watched a traffic light in the fog? You may have noticed how when the light is red you can see it clearly, but when it turns green you can barely see it. This is because red light can, in general, travel through material better than green light. The same is true for most colors; the longer the wavelength, the better the light can pierce through junk in its way.

NICMOS, one of the new instruments on board the Hubble Space Telescope, takes advantage of this fact by looking at infrared light, which has a longer wavelength than even normal red light. When it was pointed at the Orion Nebula, a huge complex of gas and dust, it was able to stars buried deep within the nebula that cannot be otherwise seen. One star, in the middle, is the most obvious star in the field, yet cannot be seen at all at normal wavelengths! This is the power of observing in infrared, and will benefit astronomers tremendously in time to come.

The picture above was taken from the wonderful public Hubble web site. This is a must-see site. There are also a few animations to help understand the images.

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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