Image: The Giant Nebula, NGC 3603

November 7, 2011
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage

( -- Thousands of sparkling young stars nestled within the giant nebula NGC 3603.

This stellar "jewel box" is one of the most massive young in the .

NGC 3603 is a prominent star-forming region in the Carina of the Milky Way, about 20,000 light-years away.

This image shows a young star cluster surrounded by a vast region of dust and gas.

The image reveals stages in the life cycle of stars. The nebula was first discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1834.

The image spans roughly 17 light-years.

Explore further: The Stars behind the Curtain (w/ Video)

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5 / 5 (2) Nov 07, 2011
It is amazing what a little knowledge can do. Rather than just look at the picture and say, "Pretty!" I can see the latest science about such clusters in action. At the right and above the cluster you can see circular fringes where some of the most recent supernovas are cleaning the last of the gas from the cluster. It also looks like the cluster has started to expand, that with the gas removed lots of the stars are no longer gravitationally bound to the cluster.

It still boggles the mind both to recognize just how long ago those "recent" supernovas occurred, and just how many supernovas in that one cluster it took to clear away the gas.
5 / 5 (1) Nov 09, 2011
"It still boggles the mind both to recognize just how long ago those "recent" supernovas occurred, and just how many supernovas in that one cluster it took to clear away the gas."

Of course, this "supernova clearing" is still under way in clusters like NGC 3603. One notable candidate in this cluster, Sher 25, bears all the precursory hallmarks of another recent supernova, SN 1987A, and may itself soon reach a critical juncture:

When such an event might happen is an open question (and yes, it is at a safe distance from us, so we can safely enjoy the fireworks).

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