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Flame Nebula

NGC 2024, also known as the Flame Nebula, is located at a distance of 900-1200 light years and is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex (Orion B). To the south of the NGC 2024 region lies NGC 2023 (a well-studied photo-dissociation region) and the Horsehead Nebula. The hydrogen emission region that is bright in visible light (and provides a strong contrasting backdrop for the dark Horsehead) is very faint in the infrared; only a faint trace of reflected light traces its outline.

At near-infrared wavelengths, a dense stellar cluster is revealed in the dark lane separating the two halves of the flame. The age of the cluster is thought to be less than one million years and the distribution of stellar masses appears to be consistent with that characterizing the solar neighborhood. Between 40-70% of the stars in this cluster are surrounded by circumstellar accretion disks, commonly associated with young stellar objects. Such disks may be sites of planet formation and could give rise to solar systems not unlike our own.