The mysterious and beautiful nebula called IRAS 05437+2502 billows out among the bright stars and dark dust clouds that surround it in this striking image from the Hubble Space Telescope. The nebula occupies a tiny space in the constellation Taurus just 1.6′ across or 1/18th the diameter of the full moon. The photo was taken through yellow and near-infrared filters. ESA/Hubble, R. Sahai and NASA
The little-known nebula IRAS 05437+2502 is located above the horns of Taurus the Bull. Its name belies its discoverer, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), which first detected the cloud in 1983 in infrared light. We sense infrared light as heat, but a telescope with a mirror made of the proper materials and chilled to near absolute zero can take pictures of celestial objects by the infrared light they emit.
The orbiting IRAS telescope’s mirrors were made of beryllium, a strong and light silvery-white metal coated with a fine layer of gold, a good reflector of infrared light. Since infrared light is basically a form of heat, engineers had to chill the mirrors with liquid helium to –452° F (–269° C) otherwise the ambient heat coming from the material would have completely washed out the photos.