The Orion Nebula is a vast complex of gas and dust that extends into the Milky Way just 1,300 light-years from Earth, towards the constellation of the eponymous great hunter. It is almost the closest star-forming region to us, accessible to anyone with a refractor or a telescope. It is even possible through binoculars to distinguish its brightest fraction, where the stars of the Trapezium cluster are camped. The latter is an asterism whose name comes from its evocative geometric shape drawn by the brightest stars. The whole thing can be guessed with the naked eye at the level of the dagger that the giant wears in his belt. You can take the test in the evening this fall, after Orion has risen (in the countryside, away from light pollution).
In these first images of the Orion Nebula (also called Messier 42, or M42) taken by James Webb, the two brightest stars in front of the wall of gas called “Orion’s bar” belong to the Trapezium cluster. They were born there, only about 300,000 years ago, according to a study. Hot, massive, they overflow with energy, and their violent radiance redraws the entire surrounding landscape, fragmenting and eroding it.
All the matter accumulated in this region of the Milky Way is thus upset by its most zealous offspring. The star’s searing ultraviolet radiation…
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