NGC 2174, the Monkey Head Nebula, is about 6,400 light-years away in the constellation of Orion. Here, it's imaged in the infrared by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3. NASA/ESA/ Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA>
NGC 2174, the Monkey Head Nebula, is about 6,400 light-years away in the constellation of Orion. Here, it's imaged in the infrared by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3. NASA/ESA/ Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA>

The Monkey Head Nebula Is a Glittering Stellar Nursery

Peer closely at this photo and in the background, you’ll see galaxies the size of stars, and stars the size of galaxies [huge version here]. But in the foreground is the Monkey Head Nebula (NGC 2174), captured in the infrared by the Hubble space telescope. It’s a region of wispy, turbulent gas and dust clouds — chaos enveloping a twinkling stellar nursery. This beautiful patch of starry sky is in the constellation Orion, about 6,500 light-years away. The nebula gets its name from the shape it takes when viewed in wide-field. This image doesn’t really give you the full primate-in-the-sky experience, so I’ve used that as an excuse to paste in a set of photos below. Sit back and stare, click to enlarge.

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This image shows the region of NGC 2174, taken in infrared and released for Hubble’s 24th birthday, in its wider context. On the left is a ground based image taken by an amateur astrophotographer of the star-forming nebula in visible light, with an outline showing the area of the detailed Hubble image. On the right is a small detail of a star-forming column in the nebula, made by Hubble’s WFC3 infrared camera. (NASA and ESA)