Scientists continue to expand their understanding of even long-studied nebulae. Most of these advances are due to improvements in telescopes and other observational technology. The Hubble Telescope has revealed a great detail about nebulae. In 2005, the space telescope captured the most detailed view of the Crab Nebula in one of the largest images ever assembled by the observatory. And in 2006, the Spitzer Telescope (launched in 2003 as the Space Infrared Telescope) collected never-before-seen data about the Orion Nebula.
Spitzer's infrared eye found some 2,300 disks of planet-forming material that were either too small or distant to be seen by most traditional telescopes scanning Orion in the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Spitzer also revealed about 200 "baby" stars that had yet to develop any planetary disks [source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory].
These are the wonders that space probes such as Pioneer 10 may encounter as they journey across the galaxy. Space explorers, however, may never enjoy a firsthand glimpse of nebulae. Orion, the nearest stellar factory to our home planet, sits about 1,450 light-years from Earth.
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