Groundbreaking photography of the Horsehead Nebula has been combined from Hubble along with several telescopes and observatories, giving viewers a fly-through of the huge and beautiful Orion constellation. The new video, shared by the European Space Agency, mashes together imagery of the Nebula captured by Hubble last week with ground-based images and sky surveys, with a mixture of visible, near-infrared, and infrared graphics coming together for a hitherto-unseen virtual journey through space.
In total, results from six different sources have been combined for the video, which begins in the constellation of Orion and then zooms in to explore the Horsehead Nebula. The ESA team took new wide-field views from its own Herschel space observatory and mixed them with the graphics from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope; on the ground, meanwhile, content from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), the ESO Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), and the Digitized Sky Survey 2 (DSS2) all contributed.
The Nebula itself is a combination of helium, hydrogen, and other gases, along with dust suspended within them, and was first spotted in 1888. Within it, the swirls of gas cause the formation of fledgling stars – the pinpricks of bright light in the photos and animation – while further streams of gas are piped out by virtue of its magnetic field.
Roughly 1,500 light years from Earth, astronomers estimate that the Horsehead Nebula measures a whopping 8 x 6 arcmins and is classed as a stellar nursery, a location where new stars are produced in mass. Attention on such nurseries has proliferated in recent months, after researchers spotted new locations with incredibly productive star creation.
Despite the eye-catching graphics in the ESA video, however, it’s worth noting that there’s some artistic license involved all the same. The stars, for instance, are “scientifically reasonable” in terms of their placement compared to actual constellations.