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This dramatic image of the Orion Nebula (M42) represents the sharpest view ever taken of this region. It was imaged with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. More than 3,000 stars of various sizes appear in this image. These stars reside in a dramatic dust-and-gas landscape of plateaus, mountains, and valleys.
The Orion Nebula is a picture book of star formation, from the massive, young stars that are shaping the nebula to the pillars of dense gas that may be the homes of budding stars. The bright central region is the home of the four heftiest stars in the nebula. The stars are called the Trapezium because they are arranged in a trapezoid pattern. Ultraviolet light unleashed by these stars is carving a cavity in the nebula and disrupting the growth of hundreds of smaller stars. Located near the Trapezium are stars still young enough to have disks of material encircling them. These disks are called protoplanetary disks or "proplyds" and are too small to see in this image. The disks are the building blocks of solar systems.
The bright glow at upper left is from M43, a small region being shaped by a massive, young star's ultraviolet light. Next to M43 are dense, dark pillars of dust and gas that point toward the Trapezium. These pillars are resisting erosion from the Trapezium's intense ultraviolet light. The glowing region on the right reveals arcs and bubbles formed when stellar winds - streams of charged particles ejected from the Trapezium stars -- collide with material.
The Orion Nebula is 1,500 light-years away, the nearest star-forming region to Earth. Astronomers used 520 Hubble images, taken in five colors in 2004 and 2005, to make this picture. They also added ground-based photos to fill in missing corners of the nebula. The ACS mosaic covers approximately 30 arc minutes, the apparent angular size of the full moon.
Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team