Picture of the Day: An Infrared View of a Reflection Nebula


While it can't be seen directly in visible light, NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) was able to capture this photograph of the reflection nebula IRAS 12116-6001 using infrared wavelengths. "In images of reflection nebulae taken with visible light, clouds of dust reflect the light of nearby stars," NASA explained. "The dust is warmed to relatively cool temperatures by the starlight and glows with infrared light, which WISE can detect." Scientists have figured out how to photograph and study reflection nebulae because they're often where new stars are formed.

Also in this picture, you can see the variable star Epsilon Crucis, so named because it is the fifth-brightest star in the Crux constellation; it's the bright blue dot to the right-hand side of the image. ("In the Bayer system of stellar nomenclature, stars are given names based on their relative brightness within a constellation," NASA explained. "The Greek alphabet is used to designate the star's apparent brightness compared to other stars in the same constellation.")

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Image: NASA.