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Hubble Celebrates its 24th Anniversary with an Infrared Look at a Nearby Star Factory

An artistic canvas of mauve and blue taken by NASA/ESA's Hubble Space Telescope helps celebrate the telescope's upcoming 24th anniversary. Hubble used infrared filters on its main imaging workhorse, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 3, to capture this breathtaking view.

The subject is a collection of carved knots of gas and dust in the Monkey Head Nebula, also known as NGC 2174 and Sharpless Sh2-252. The nebula is a star-forming region that hosts dusky dust clouds silhouetted against glowing gas.

Massive newly-formed stars near the center of the nebula (and toward the right in this image) are blasting away at dust within the nebula. Ultraviolet light from these bright stars helps carve the dust into giant pillars. The nebula is mostly composed of hydrogen gas, which becomes ionized by the ultraviolet radiation and gives the nebulosity credence for its title as an HII region.

Officially in Orion, NGC 2174 is not too far from the Orion-Gemini constellation border. NGC 2174 is similar in size and shape to the Great Orion Nebula. At 6,400 light-years distant, however, it resides nearly 6 times farther away than the Orion Nebula.

The composite image is a collection of individual infrared filters that each let in a slightly different wavelength of light from the electromagnetic spectrum. As the interstellar dust particles are warmed from the radiation from the stars in the center of the nebula, they heat up and begin to glow at infrared wavelengths. Observations of NGC 2174 were taken in Feburary, 2014.

The image demonstrates the power of the infrared capability of Hubble and offers a tantalizing hint of what scientists can expect from the upcoming NASA/ESA collaboration to build and launch the James Webb Space Telescope.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)