[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December, 2004, 15:51 GMT
Camera scoops amazing Orion snaps
The images show dust and gas illuminated by stars

Astronomers have produced some amazing pictures using a remarkable new instrument on the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope in Hawaii.

The Wide Field Camera (WFCAM), built at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, is the world's most powerful infrared survey camera.

WFCAM was trained on a region of star formation in the Orion constellation about 1,500 light-years away.

The stunning images cover an area of sky that was unobtainable before.

"The ability to see such a large area at once, with state-of-the-art detectors, makes WFCAM the fastest infrared survey instrument in the world, bar none," commented Dr Andy Adamson, head of operations at the Hawaii telescope, which is sited on top of the Mauna Kea mountain.

Wide view

The full WFCAM view of Orion covers an area that is 1,200 times larger than that covered by the Hawaiian telescope's previous infrared camera UFTI.

It is also some 3,600 times larger than that covered by the Hubble Space Telescope's infrared camera, called Nicmos.

The astronomers combined observations with different infrared filters to give a "colour" image, showing dramatic clouds of gas and dust in the southern half of the Orion nebula, a region of intense star formation.

Orion nebula, Joint Astronomy Centre
The cluster of stars in the bright region is known as the "Trapezium"
The images reveal not only the illuminated edges of clouds and filaments, but also thousands of young stars that are otherwise hidden from view at visible light wavelengths by the gas and dust.

WFCAM detects infrared light, or heat radiation, which is the key to understanding many types of astronomical objects.

These include stars in our own galaxy and beyond, interstellar clouds, the mysterious "failed stars" known as brown dwarfs, and quasars at the edge of the observable Universe.

Dr Paul Hirst, WFCAM instrument scientist, said: "WFCAM will be used to do surveys of the infrared sky, which will detect objects 100 times fainter than those in the deepest existing surveys.

"This survey programme will take up to seven years to complete and will provide astronomers with a picture of the infrared sky to unprecedented depth."

Hubble's deepest shot is a puzzle
23 Sep 04 |  Science/Nature
New star emerges from dust cocoon
12 Feb 04 |  Science/Nature
Barren world of stars
27 Apr 01 |  Science/Nature

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific