ScienceShot: A Hole in Space

For a place that's supposedly empty and very cold, space is actually full of stuff—galaxies, gas, and dust, to name a few examples. But here's a place in space that really is empty. Astronomers found it while probing a region of the Orion Nebula with the Herschel Space Observatory. The region, called NGC 1999, is located about 1500 light-years away. It's the greenish haze in the upper left portion of this image. For decades, the black patch to the right of NGC 1999 was presumed to be an opaque cloud of dust. But Herschel's powerful infrared camera, which can see through dust, revealed that the patch is as empty as space can be. Why the void? Astronomers think the answer lies in the birth throes of stars. When new stars form—particularly the massive variety—their energetic solar winds eventually blow away the leftover gas and dust that surrounds them, like a newborn chick hacking its way out of an egg. And so many young and massive stars inhabit NGC 1999 that their collective solar winds may have blasted the adjacent area clean as a whistle.

See more ScienceShots.