NASA’s Hubble Telescope Discovers ‘Cosmic Keyhole’ in Space: See the Jaw-Dropping Photo

by Shelby Scott
(Courtesy of NASA)

In time for Halloween, NASA‘s Hubble Telescope captured a spooky image of what the agency has labeled a “cosmic keyhole.” The strange phenomenon, featured in the image below, sees ghostly tendrils of cosmic clouds swirling in space around a dark hole. That hole is then lit by what appears to be a single distant star. And the black space at the center of the photo appears oddly similar to a keyhole. Check it out.

According to ScienceAlert, NASA’s Hubble Telescope actually captured an image of what’s called a “reflection nebula.” Per the outlet, reflection nebulas are formed by the debris left behind by the formation of a newborn star or, in this specific case, a small, multiple-star system.

This particular reflection nebula, called NGC 1999, is located in the constellation Orion. SciTechDaily reports that the cosmic keyhole, as we have it, lies 1,350 lightyears from Earth. That makes it the closest region of massive star formation to our planet.

Further, the process of star formation is certainly intriguing. But the remnants of the newborn star that formed this particular cosmic keyhole are interesting in their own way. Astronomers initially believed the dark, black space located within the swirling, cloud-like mist to be a Bok globule. A Bok globule is a cold, dense cloud. It’s comprised of gas, molecules, and dust which then appear to block out background light.

Instead, though, astronomers discovered that the keyhole-shaped region of the nebula reflection is just an empty part of space.

What We’ve Learned Since NASA’s Hubble Telescope Discovered NGC 1999

As its name implies, NASA first discovered the newborn star remnants that make up NGC 1999 right before the turn of the century. Experts compare the cold, dark cloud—lit by a single infant star—to fog swirling around a street lamp. NGC 1999 only shines the way it does thanks to the tiny star lighting up the image above from behind.

The star itself is named V380 Orionis and is believed to be anywhere from 1 to 3 million years old. While to humans, a single millennium seems ancient, stars have much longer lifespans. And for V380, its life has just begun.

According to LiveScience, the lifespan of a single star depends on its size. Some measure as small as 7% of our own sun’s mass while others are 250 times the size of our solar system’s parent star.

Ryan French, a solar physicist at University College London, U.K., spoke about the lifespan of stars, revealing how it compares to the infant star photographed by NASA’s Hubble Telescope.

“Bigger stars actually exhaust the fuel available to them much faster than smaller stars,” French said. “The most massive stars live for a cosmically brief hundreds of millions of years. They live fast and die young. The smallest stars that are less than 10% of the sun’s mass have far less fuel to begin with; even so, they can eke out a living from their fuel supply for hundreds of billions of years.”

That said, given that V380 illuminating NASA’s cosmic keyhole is only 3 million years old at most, the star, regardless of size, still has a long life ahead of it.