Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have spotted several ‘proplyds’ and ‘globulettes’ in the Flame Nebula.
The Flame Nebula resides about 1,400 light-years away in the constellation of Orion.
It is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, which includes such famous nebulae as the Horsehead Nebula and the Orion Nebula.
The Flame Nebula was discovered by the German-born British astronomer William Herschel on January 1, 1786.
Also known as NGC 2024 and Sh2-277, it is approximately 12 light-years wide and is classified as an emission nebula.
“Hubble studied this nebula to look for protoplanetary disks (or proplyds) — disks of gas and dust around stars that may one day form new solar systems,” Hubble astronomers explained.
“The telescope found four confirmed proplyds and four possible proplyds in the nebula, but the proplyds are being worn away by the intense radiation of nearby stars and may never have the chance to form planets as a result.”
“Hubble also located three ‘globulettes’ in the nebula — small, dark dust clouds that can be seen against the background of bright nebulae,” they added.
“These dust clouds are thought to form brown dwarfs — warm objects too big to be planets but without enough mass to become stars — and other free-floating, planetary-mass objects in our Milky Way Galaxy.”