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The Flame Nebula, also known as NGC 2024,  is a stellar nursery located about 1,500 light years from our solar system.  The nebula is a region of  star formation that is in the process of forming a star cluster. The Flame Nebula is visible through small telescopes. It is located in the constellation of Orion near the star known as Alnitak, the easternmost star of Orion's Belt.

This image was captured by David Thompson of the California Institute of Technology on the night of March 12-13, 2004.  He used the Palomar Observatory's 200-inch (5-meter) Hale Telescope with its Wide-field Infrared Camera (WIRC).

The image was recorded in three near-infrared wavelengths: "J" centered at 1.250 microns, "H" at 1.635 microns, and "Ks" at 2.150.  Exposures were 2.5 minutes in each filter.  The J image was mapped to blue, H to green and Ks to red to make the color image.

This near-infrared image reveals the embedded star cluster which is forming inside the nebula. The longer wavelengths (the Ks-band) sees easily through the dust.  Redder looking stars in the image are more heavily embedded within the nebula than the bluer stars (many of which are in the foreground). The cluster is thought to be less than one million years old.

WIRC operates at the prime focus (f/3.3) of the Hale Telescope and records a field of view that is 8.49 arc minutes on a side.  The camera was developed jointly by Caltech and Cornell University.  It features a 2048-square Rockwell Hawaii-II NIR detector manufactured by Rockwell Scientific in Camarillo, California.   i

The research was based on observations obtained at the Hale Telescope, Palomar Observatory, as part of a collaborative agreement between the California Institute of Technology, its divisions Caltech Optical Observatories and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (operated for NASA), and Cornell University.

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