NASA's Hubble snaps stunning star cluster 20,000 light-years away
NASA has revealed a sparkling image of a nebula located 20,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Carina. The central shimmering star cluster, which looks exactly like a display of fireworks, is surrounded by pockets of interstellar dust and gas which serve as the building blocks of star formation. The picture was snapped by the Hubble Space Telescope between August and December 2009.
Why does this story matter?
- The Hubble Space Telescope has been widely used by astronomers to examine distant galaxies and has greatly improved our understanding of the universe.
- There are more than 13,000 journal articles that have been published based on Hubble's data, which makes it one of the most productive scientific instruments ever built.
- The telescope, the size of a large school bus, was launched in 1990.
The underlying stars are concealed by a layer of dust
While the central star cluster steals the spotlight, a bluish-white layer of gas and dust surrounds the collection of stars. This "wispy veil" obscures the underlying stars. "The background of the image is peppered with the white, yellow, orange, and red dots of distant stars upon empty pockets of space in dark navy and black," wrote NASA in an official post.
The nebula's gas produces its own light
The gas in this nebula gives rise to its own light which can be observed at visible wavelengths. It can be seen as a pale and dim cloud at the middle and bottom right corner of the picture.
Such massive star clusters can provide information about distant starbursts
Star clusters like the one seen in the image are a particular topic of interest because they can provide insights into the origin of massive star formation in the early, distant universe. These massive clusters are also used to study distant starbursts that occur when galaxies collide, which in turn spark star formation. The proximity of this nebula makes it ideal for deeper investigation.