Image: Intense star formation in the Westerhout 43 region

August 1, 2017
Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/Hi-GAL Project. Acknowledgement: UNIMAP / L. Piazzo, La Sapienza – Università di Roma; E. Schisano / G. Li Causi, IAPS/INAF, Italy

Hidden from our sight, the Westerhout 43 star-forming region is revealed in full glory in this far-infrared image from ESA's Herschel space observatory. This giant cloud, where a multitude of massive stars come to life in the billowing gas and dust, is almost 20 000 light-years away from the Sun, in the constellation of Aquila, the Eagle.

Massing more than seven million Suns, this region is home to over 20 , which are being heated by the powerful light from newborn stars within. These hubs of stand out in blue hue against the cooler yellow and red surroundings.

Nestled in the glowing blue bubble of gas at the centre of the image is a cluster of extremely hot and massive Wolf-Rayet and OB stars, which together are over a million times brighter than our Sun. This bubble, hosting the seeds that will grow into several new stellar clusters, is one of the most prolific birthplaces of stars in our Galaxy.

A less extreme but still very active stellar factory is the large complex of blue bubbles visible in the image towards the right. Scrutinising the Herschel images, astronomers have found evidence of what appears like a network of filaments linking these two intense hubs of star formation.

Located in a very dynamic of the Milky Way, at the transition between the central bar of the Galaxy and one of its spiral arms, Westerhout 43 is an excellent laboratory to study how stars – especially massive ones – take shape at the collision of two large flows of interstellar matter.

Investigating star-forming regions across our Galaxy in unprecedented detail was one of the main goals of Herschel, which was launched in 2009 and operated for almost four years, observing the sky at far-infrared and submillimetre wavelengths. Sensitive to the heat from the small fraction of cold dust mixed in with the clouds of gas where stars form, imaging such regions points astronomers to dense areas of gas where new are being born, enabling them to study the action in detail, just as in this image.

This three-colour image combines Herschel observations at 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red), and spans about 3º on the long side; north is up and east to the left. The image was obtained as part of Herschel's Hi-GAL key-project, which imaged the entire plane of the Milky Way in five different infrared bands. A video panorama compiling all Hi-GAL observations was published in April 2016.

Explore further: Image: Star formation on filaments in RCW106

Related Stories

Image: Star formation on filaments in RCW106

February 20, 2017

Stars are bursting into life all over this image from ESA's Herschel space observatory. It depicts the giant molecular cloud RCW106, a massive billow of gas and dust almost 12 000 light-years away in the southern constellation ...

Image: Hubble's cosmic atlas

July 28, 2017

This beautiful clump of glowing gas, dark dust and glittering stars is the spiral galaxy NGC 4248, located about 24 million light-years away in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs).

Image: Star factory NGC 7538

March 4, 2014

(Phys.org) —The billowing clouds portrayed in this image from ESA's Herschel observatory are part of NGC 7538, a stellar nursery for massive stars. Located around 9000 light-years away, this is one of the few regions of ...

Image: Our flocculent neighbour, the spiral galaxy M33

July 28, 2014

The spiral galaxy M33, also known as the Triangulum Galaxy, is one of our closest cosmic neighbours, just three million light-years away. Home to some forty billion stars, it is the third largest in the Local Group of galaxies ...

Image: Interstellar filaments in Polaris

January 3, 2017

Just as the new calendar year begins, and with it a feeling of new beginnings, so this network of dust and gas shows a portion of sky where star birth is yet to take hold.

Image: Stellar association Vulpecula OB1

May 24, 2016

New stars are the lifeblood of our Galaxy, and there is enough material revealed by this Herschel infrared image to build stars for millions of years to come.

Recommended for you

Orbital mayhem around a red dwarf

December 18, 2017

In the collective imagination, planets of a solar system all circle in the equatorial plane of their star. The star also spins, and its spin axis is aligned with the spin axes of the planetary orbits, giving the impression ...

Mars and Earth may not have been early neighbors

December 18, 2017

A study published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters posits that Mars formed in what today is the Asteroid Belt, roughly one and a half times as far from the sun as its current position, before migrating to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.