Orion Nebula Images Taken From the Big Island

HILO, Hawaii (KHNL) - An image released by the Gemini Observatory on the Big Island brings into focus a new and remarkably detailed view of supersonic "bullets" of gas and the wakes created as they pierce through clouds of molecular hydrogen in the Orion Nebula. The image was made possible with new laser guide star adaptive optics technology that corrects in real time for image distortions caused by Earth's atmosphere.

The Orion Nebula is a star-forming region located relatively near to us, about 1,500 light-years away.

The Orion bullets were first seen in a visible-light image in 1983. The typical size of one of the bullet tips is about ten times the size of Pluto's orbit around the Sun. The wakes shown in the image are about a fifth of a light-year long.

"What I find stunning about the new image is the detail it shows, which was blurred out in any previous studies, revealing the structure of the bullets and their trailing wakes as they run into the surrounding molecular cloud," said Michael Burton of the University of New South Wales who, along with the late David Allen (Anglo-Australian Observatory) were the first to suggest the origin of these spectacular bullets 15 years ago.

"This level of precision will allow the evolution of the system to be followed over the next few years, for small changes in the structures are expected from year to year as the bullets continue their outward motion."

The bullets are estimated to be less than a thousand years old since ejection.