Illustration for article titled The Orion Nebula fires bullets the size of our solar system

The Orion Nebula, as the closest site of massive ongoing star formation to Earth, has long been one of the most intensely studied objects in the night sky. But it still holds mysteries, including these "bullets" emanating from its center.


The so-called bullets are the blue regions in the above photograph, which was taken by the Gemini South telescope in Chile. These dense, mysterious objects are ripping through the hydrogen clouds at supersonic speeds, and no one is exactly sure why. Most likely, these bullets were created less than a thousand years ago from a mysterious source inside the cloud known as IRc2. This particular image is a close-up image taken in the infrared spectrum, although we're still not getting too close to the bullets, considering just how huge they really are. NASA explains:

Blasted out by energetic massive star formation the bullets, relatively dense, hot gas clouds about ten times the size of Pluto's orbit, are blue in the false color image. Glowing with the light of ionized iron atoms they travel at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second, their passage traced by yellowish trails of the nebula's shock-heated hydrogen gas. The cone-shaped wakes are up to a fifth of a light-year long. The detailed image was created using the 8.1 meter Gemini South telescope in Chile with a newly commisioned adaptive optics system (GeMS). Achieving a larger field of view than previous generation adaptive optics, GeMS uses five laser generated guide stars to help compensate for the blurring effects of planet Earth's atmosphere.


For more awesome images like this, check out NASA's Astronomy Photo of the Day.

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