May 29, 2015 04:05 PM EDT
This stunning nebula, called RCW 34 and visualized by the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), is home to young stars that heat gases, causing them to expand outward. In this brightest area of the nebula heated hydrogen bursts into the vacuum outside the gas cloud, "uncorking" the nebula. This kind of process is called a champagne flow, and the entire area provides rich fodder for astronomers as it continuously produces new, brilliant stars.
The VLT, located in Chile, produced this image of a cloud of hydrogen glowing red as the background to blue, luminous stars. Camouflaged inside the brightest region of RCW 34 are many enormous young stars which have a notable affect on the nebula. In the center of this nebula ultraviolet radiation ionizes gas. This releases hydrogen electrons and causes the spectacular red glow and dramatic shapes and flow patterns like the champagne flow.
Astronomers have practical interest in ionized hydrogen, however, because it points out star-forming regions to them. Stars are created as clouds of gas collapse, so nebulae like this one are of special interest to scientists studying the birth and life story of stars. However, those hoping to watch star nurseries like this one can be foiled by the massive quantities of cosmic dust.
This is why infrared telescopes are so useful in these observations. Extremely high extinction is a characteristic of the RCW 34 nebula, which means that nearly all of the visible light from it is absorbed before it gets to us here. Infrared telescopes can muddle through the cosmic dust to mind the nursery.
These observations show us that the many young stars in the area have far less mass than our Sun, and tend to gravitate towards the center of the nebula around massive stars in the core. This makes astronomers think that three enormous central stars formed in the first star formation stage of several in the nebula, and this later triggered the birth of the smaller stars.
This image was produced as a result of the Cosmic Gems program of the ESO using data and equipment loaned to it.
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