Great New Image From Star Nursery Lupus 3

First Posted: Jan 16, 2013 02:23 PM EST

A brilliant image made by an ESO telescope shows a patch of black cosmic dust where new stars are forming. It is surrounded by a cluster of bright stars that have already emerged from their dusty stellar nursery. The new picture was taken with the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile and is said to be the best image ever taken in visible light of this little-known object. Lupus 3, as this cloud is called, lies about 600 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion). The section shown in the image is just about five light-years across, showing the modestly small size of the cloud, by cosmic standards that is.

"The cloud contains huge amounts of cool cosmic dust and is a nursery where new stars are being born. It is likely that the Sun formed in a similar star formation region more than four billion years ago", explained ESO astronomers the image in a release from January 16.

Cosmic clouds can contract under the effects of gravity, first very slowly and then accelerating, a process that lets the gas heat up, become more compressed, and start to glow. At some point, the pressure and temperatures become high enough to ignite the stellar fusion fire within the core of a new star. At first the generated radiation is blocked by the dusty clouds still surrounding a large area and can only be seen by telescopes observing at longer wavelengths than visible light, such as the infrared. But "as the stars get hotter and brighter their intense radiation and stellar winds gradually clear the clouds around them until they emerge in all their glory", the astronomers said.

There are two bright stars at the center of the image, which shine in a blue light and are believed to be just one million years old, and can be seen with binoculars or small telescopes from Earth. There are many more young stars in the area which are less visible.

The bright stars right of the centre of this new picture form a perfect example of a small group of such hot young stars. Some of their brilliant blue light is being scattered off the remaining dust around them. The two brightest stars are bright enough to be seen easily with a small telescope or binoculars. They are young stars that have not yet started to shine by nuclear fusion in their cores and are still surrounded by glowing gas [1]. They are probably less than one million years old.

Although they are less obvious at first glance than the bright blue stars, surveys have found many other very young stellar objects in this region, which is one of the closest such stellar nurseries to the Sun.

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