Orion Nebula Photograph Unveiled at the Jordan Planetarium

OrionThe UMaine Maynard Jordan Planetarium on Wednesday was one of only 20 institutions in the United States to unveil the most comprehensive photograph ever of the closest star-forming region to Earth, the Great Orion Nebula. Using the orbiting Hubble Telescope, NASA and astronomers at the affiliated Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore assembled 520 Hubble Telescope images, taken in five colors, to make a seamless, 1 billion-pixel color image so detailed that the photo revealed unprecedented views of a tapestry of roiling dust and gas pillars, bubbles and arcs and some 3,000 stars, many of which had never been seen in visible light. Ground-based photographs also were used to fill out the nebula mosaic. The Orion Nebula is 13 light years wide – more than 76 trillion miles, and is 1,500 light years – 8.7 quadrillion miles – from Earth. Comparatively, if our solar system were in the Great Orion, it would appear as a tiny spec, according to Professor David Batuski, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, who explained the significance of the new photograph of the Great Orion Nebula during a planetarium news conference. Nebulas are regions in space where stars are born. NASA scientists call the high-resolution photographic mosaic a “picture book of star formation.” A detailed poster of the Great Orion Nebula, 18,000 pixels square or 324 million pixels in all, is on display at the Jordan Planetarium. At Wednesday’s unveiling ceremony, Ann Leffler, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, cut the ribbon and underscored the significance of the unveiling at UMaine. The university has a history of both education and research relationships with NASA. Planetarium director Alan Davenport has scheduled special shows on the Hubble Telescope at 7 p.m. on Feb. 3 and Feb. 17. Additional information about the 4×4-foot poster and planetarium show schedules is available at http://umainesky.com/public.htm. Channel 2 (WLBZ), Channel 7 (WVII) and The Weekly all provided coverage of the Wednesday event.