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The Orion Nebula comes alive with color in 1 of 20 recently announced winning shots in the European Southern Observatory's Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography contest.
The Orion Nebula, a huge cloud of gas and dust that's actively forming stars, is one of the most studied and photographed celestial objects. Russian amateur astronomer Igor Chekalin decided to process this image to emphasize the relatively cool dust, which reflects starlight, rather than the hot hydrogen gas, which emits its own light.
Hidden deep in the constellation Corona Australis ("southern crown"), this star incubator glows because its gases are being charged by powerful radiation from the newborn stars inside. Even though NGC 6729 lies just 424 light-years from Earth—making it one of the nearest star-forming regions in the Milky Way galaxy—the nebula remains one of the least studied.
A mushrooming cloud of hydrogen gas—lighted up by dozens of young stars huddled near the cloud's center—spreads into interstellar space in this prize-winning picture of the nebula NGC 3582. The raw data came from the 2.2-meter La Silla telescope.
Looking like a ghoulish Halloween mask in this winning photo, the so-called N44 superbubble shines in vibrant color thanks to Manuel Mejas from Argentina, who processed raw data from the Very Large Telescope to create the scene.