A rather interesting looking new image of the Witch Head Nebula was recently captured by NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.
The new infrared portrait captures the rather strange looking resident of the Orion constellation — the hundreds of light-years across nebula is located just off of the infamous hunter’s knee in Orion.
NASA provides more:
The infrared portrait shows the Witch Head nebula, named after its resemblance to the profile of a wicked witch. Astronomers say the billowy clouds of the nebula, where baby stars are brewing, are being lit up by massive stars. Dust in the cloud is being hit with starlight, causing it to glow with infrared light, which was picked up by WISE’s detectors.
WISE was recently “awakened” to hunt for asteroids in a program called NEOWISE. The reactivation came after the spacecraft was put into hibernation in 2011, when it completed two full scans of the sky, as planned.
A bit more background — the Witch Head Nebula’s “proper” name is IC 2118. It’s an very faint reflection nebula that’s believed to be “an ancient supernova remnant or gas cloud illuminated by nearby supergiant star Rigel in Orion. It lies in the Eridanus constellation, about 900 light-years from Earth. The nature of the dust particles, reflecting blue light better than red, is a factor in giving the Witch Head its blue color. Radio observations show substantial carbon monoxide emission throughout parts of IC 2118 an indicator of the presence of molecular clouds and star formation in the nebula.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech