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December 2003

NGC 1977: The Dove Nebula

In Orion's Belt, just above the Orion Nebula, lies this exotic nebula. Nicknamed "the Dove" after the ghostly red portion that resembles the shadow of a bird in flight just above center. The Dove Nebula lies about 1,500 light years from the Sun.

The gas glows as a result of the intense energy being radiated by the brightest blue stars near the center of the image. While the red light shows where hydrogen gas is present and glowing, the blue light is light being reflected from this star. The blue color has the same origin as the blue light of our daytime sky - the gas in our atmosphere, like the gas in this nebula, reflects blue light more readily than red.