Hubble Space Telescope peeks into mysterious ‘keyhole’ in space

I like a good space mystery. A dark “keyhole” spot in the middle of the NGC 1999 nebula in the constellation Orion has proven to be a scientific puzzle. The Hubble Space Telescope has captured an ethereal view of the nebula, a massive cloud of dust and gas created by star formation.

NASA shared the view Friday with comments from the European Space Agency. Here is the full picture:

NGC 1999 has a mysterious void in the middle that acts as a window.

ESA/Hubble and NASA, ESO, K. Noll

“Like fog wrapping around a street lamp, reflection nebulae like NGC 1999 shine with light from an embedded source,” the ESA poetically stated. The nebula’s light source is a small star named V380 Orion. It shines in the center of the image just to the left of the dark keyhole.

The newly released image is from a revision of old Hubble data from 1999. At the time, scientists believed the black hole was likely a light-blocking cloud of gas and dust. Further study with data from other telescopes showed that the keyhole is actually an empty region, more like an open window. “The origin of this unexplained flaw at the core of NGC 1999 remains unknown,” the ESA said.

Hubble is a joint NASA and ESA project with more than three decades of space observations under its belt. Ghostly NGC 1999 and its mysterious Heart of Darkness are perfect for Halloween.

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