As autumn changes to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the glorious Orion Nebula rises in the early evening, a welcome addition to the amateur’s list of favourite targets. Even in small telescope, the vast stellar nursery, some 1,400 light years from Earth, dazzles the eye with curving wings of gas stretching away to either side of a concentrated star-forming region where larger instruments reveal the four brightest members of the Trapezium, an open cluster of very young stars. Very large instruments, of course, reveal truly stunning tapestries of light and colour across multiple wavelengths. This infrared view was captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope using the HAWK-I cryogenically cooled infrared camera.
Astronomers have used modern techniques to create a 3-D visualisation of all of the O- and B-type stars within 500 parsecs (1,630 light-years) of the Sun using data from ESA’s Hipparcos satellite. This new visualisation uncovers evidence for new structures in the distribution of these nearby hot stars, and new and surprising theories of how those stars formed.
Astronomers have discovered three planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth. These worlds have sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the solar system. They are the first planets ever discovered around such a tiny and dim star.