A growing family of stars can be seen sprouting in the colorful Rosette nebula in a new image taken by the Herschel Space Observatory.
The image shows most of the cloud associated with the Rosette nebula, located about 5,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn. (A light-year is the distance that light can travel in one year, about 6 trillion miles, or 10 trillion kilometers.)
The region shown in the image is a busy stellar nursery, with groups of stars of different ages. The oldest and most massive members lie in the center of the nebula, with younger and less massive generations located farther out in the associated cloud.
The nebula's cluster of the most massive stars, located beyond the right edge of the picture, is responsible for hollowing out the cavity.
There's enough dust and gas in the entire Rosette cloud to make about 10,000 suns.
Herschel, a European Space Agency telescope that has participation from NASA, detects the infrared light given off by the dust of the nebula.
The large, embryonic stars uncovered by Herschel are thought to be a younger generation. They are located inside the tips of pillars that appear to branch out from thicker cloud material.
The pillars were, in fact, excavated by the nebula's massive star cluster. Winds and radiation from those stars pushed less dense material away from the pillars, and probably triggered the birth of the big stars inside the finger-like structures. In fact, the pillars point to the location of the massive nebula stars.
The intermediate-mass stellar embryos, each a couple of times as massive as the sun, are located in the redder regions of the image. The small spots near the center of the image are lower-mass embryonic stars, similar in mass to the sun.
Astronomers study regions like the Rosette not only to learn how stars form in our Milky Way, but also to get a better idea of what's going on in distant galaxies. When astronomers look at faraway galaxies, they are seeing light from regions that are bursting with massive stars. In order to compare our galaxy to distant ones, it is therefore important to understand the formation of high-mass stars.
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