Orion Nebula Hubble Telescope

The green hue was a puzzle for astronomers in the early part of the 20th century because none of the known spectral lines at that time could explain it. There was some speculation that the lines were caused by a new element, and the name nebulium was coined for this mysterious material. With better understanding of atomic physics, however, it was later determined that the green spectrum was caused by a low-probability electron transition in doubly ionized oxygen, a so-called “forbidden transition”. This radiation was all but impossible to reproduce in the laboratory at the time, because it depended on the quiescent and nearly collision-free environment found in the high vacuum of deep space.