Snapshot: Hubble gazes through a cosmic keyhole

The foggy nebula around a newborn star features a mysterious void.
By | Published: November 11, 2022 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
ESA/Hubble & NASA, ESO, K. Noll

This alluring image, created from archival Hubble Space Telescope data, features the reflection nebula NGC 1999, which sports a mysterious hole in its center.

Located 1,350 light-years away in the constellation Orion the Hunter, the smoky blue clouds of NGC 1999 reflect light streaming from a newborn star embedded within, V380 Orionis (at center). The wispy puffs of illuminated gas and dust around V380 Orionis are leftovers from the celestial object’s birth, according to a NASA release.

Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 instrument captured the data for this image after Servicing Mission 3A in 1999. At that point, astronomers thought the inky keyhole- or pawn-shaped black patch was due to a particularly dense cloud of cold gas, called a Bok globule, which blots out background light. 

However, thanks in part to ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory, astronomers now know the cosmic keyhole is just a relatively empty region of space — though they still don’t know what caused it.