Stellar nursery blooms into view

December 13, 2017, ESO
The OmegaCAM imager on ESO's VLT Survey Telescope has captured this glittering view of the stellar nursery called Sharpless 29. Many astronomical phenomena can be seen in this giant image, including cosmic dust and gas clouds that reflect, absorb, and re-emit the light of hot young stars within the nebula. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

The OmegaCAM camera on ESO's VLT Survey Telescope has captured this glittering view of the stellar nursery called Sharpless 29. Many astronomical phenomena can be seen in this giant image, including cosmic dust and gas clouds that reflect, absorb, and re-emit the light of hot young stars within the nebula.

The region of sky pictured is listed in the Sharpless catalogue of H II regions: interstellar clouds of ionised gas, rife with . Also known as Sh 2-29, Sharpless 29 is located about 5500 light-years away in the constellation of Sagittarius (constellation)) (The Archer), next door to the larger Lagoon Nebula. It contains many astronomical wonders, including the highly active star formation site of NGC 6559, the nebula at the centre of the image.

This central nebula is Sharpless 29's most striking feature. Though just a few light-years across, it showcases the havoc that stars can wreak when they form within an interstellar cloud. The hot young stars in this image are no more than two million years old and are blasting out streams of high-energy radiation. This energy heats up the surrounding and gas, while their stellar winds dramatically erode and sculpt their birthplace. In fact, the nebula contains a prominent cavity that was carved out by an energetic binary star system. This cavity is expanding, causing the interstellar material to pile up and create the reddish arc-shaped border.

When interstellar dust and gas are bombarded with ultraviolet light from hot young stars, the energy causes them to shine brilliantly. The diffuse red glow permeating this image comes from the emission of hydrogen gas, while the shimmering blue light is caused by reflection and scattering off small dust particles. As well as emission and reflection, absorption takes place in this region. Patches of dust block out the light as it travels towards us, preventing us from seeing the stars behind it, and smaller tendrils of dust create the dark filamentary structures within the clouds.

The rich and diverse environment of Sharpless 29 offers astronomers a smorgasbord of physical properties to study. The triggered formation of stars, the influence of the young stars upon dust and gas, and the disturbance of magnetic fields can all be observed and examined in this single area.

But young, massive stars live fast and die young. They will eventually explosively end their lives in a supernova, leaving behind rich debris of gas and dust. In tens of millions of years, this will be swept away and only an open cluster of will remain.

Sharpless 29 was observed with ESO's OmegaCAM on the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at Cerro Paranal in Chile. OmegaCAM produces images that cover an area of sky more than 300 times greater than the largest field of view imager of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and can observe over a wide range of wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the infrared. Its hallmark feature is its ability to capture the very red spectral line H-alpha, created when the electron inside a hydrogen atom loses energy, a prominent occurrence in a like Sharpless 29.

Explore further: Image: Reflection nebula NGC 1999

Related Stories

Image: Reflection nebula NGC 1999

October 30, 2017

This spooky sight, imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, resembles fog lit by a streetlamp swirling around a curiously shaped hole – and there is some truth in that. While the 'fog' is dust and gas lit up by the ...

VST captures three-in-one

June 14, 2017

Two of the sky's more famous residents share the stage with a lesser-known neighbour in this enormous new three gigapixel image from ESO's VLT Survey Telescope (VST). On the right lies Sharpless 2-54, the iconic Eagle Nebula ...

Image: Hubble's diamond in the dust

February 23, 2016

Surrounded by an envelope of dust, the subject of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is a young forming star known as HBC 1. The star is in an immature and adolescent phase of life, while most of a sun-like star's ...

Image: A stormy stellar nursery

June 19, 2017

This shot from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows a maelstrom of glowing gas and dark dust within one of the Milky Way's satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Celestial cat meets cosmic lobster

February 1, 2017

Astronomers have for a long time studied the glowing, cosmic clouds of gas and dust catalogued as NGC 6334 and NGC 6357, this gigantic new image from ESO's Very Large Telescope Survey Telescope being only the most recent ...

An anarchic region of star formation

May 2, 2013

(Phys.org) —The Danish 1.54-meter telescope located at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile has captured a striking image of NGC 6559, an object that showcases the anarchy that reigns when stars form inside an interstellar ...

Recommended for you

APEX takes a glimpse into the heart of darkness

May 25, 2018

The 12 m radio telescope APEX in Chile has been outfitted with special equipment including broad bandwidth recorders and a stable hydrogen maser clock for performing joint interferometric observations with other telescopes ...

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.