Young stars twinkle within a rainbow curtain of dust and gas in this new image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
The image highlights NGC-6530, an open cluster of a few thousand stars more than 4,000 light-years away in interstellar space.
NGC-6530 is located within a vast cloud of dust and gas called the Lagoon Nebula. You can spot a faint smear of the Lagoon Nebula in the constellation Sagittarius on a dark night, but unfortunately, human eyes can’t make out the dazzling array of colors at that distance. Nebulas are stellar nurseries, where hydrogen gas collapses over millions of years to form stars.
Hubble captured this image while scientists were scanning the Lagoon Nebula for structures called proplyds, a kind of protoplanetary disk that surrounds newborn stars.
All stars form in spinning blobs of gas and dust that collapse inward. As the star grows, the spinning blob flattens into a disk. Over billions of years, the material in this disk collides, sometimes sticking and growing from pebbles into planets. That’s how all solar systems — including our own — form. So scientists search for protoplanetary disks to study solar system formation.
The Hubble Space Telescope has been instrumental in unveiling growing planetary systems around newborn stars, and the James Webb Space Telescope will usher in a new era of observations. With JWST’s even more sensitive and powerful cameras, astronomers will be able to plumb even deeper into stellar nurseries like the Lagoon Nebula.