A jaw-dropping photo released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) reveals a smoke-black space cloud where new stars are being birthed, along with a cluster of brilliant stars that have already left their dusty stellar nursery. The stunning photo was snapped with the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, according to the ESO. The photo is the best image ever taken in visible light of this mysterious space object (click here to view a gallery of all the images that have ever been released by the ESO.)
On the left side of this new photo there is a dark column that looks a lot like a cloud of smoke. On the right side of this photo there is a small group of brilliant stars. To the visible eye it appears that these two features could not be more different, but the fact is that they are closely linked to one another. According to the ESO, the space cloud contains massive amounts of cool cosmic dust and is a birthing center where new stars are being born. Astronomers believe that the Sun formed in a similar star formation region more than four billion years ago.
This space cloud is called Lupus 3 and it is located approximately 600 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius. The section shown in the image is about five light-years across.
As the denser part of the space cloud contracts under the effects of gravity it heats up and starts to shine. At first this radiation is blocked by the dusty cloud and can only be spotted by infrared light. Eventually as the stars grow hotter and brighter their intense radiation and stellar winds gradually clear the cloud around them until they emerge from their dusty stellar nursery.
The brilliant stars on the right side of this new photo are a perfect example of a small group of such hot young stars, according to the ESO. While some of their brilliant blue light is being scattered off by the remaining dust around them, the two brightest stars are bright enough to be seen easily with a small telescope. Astronomers believe that these are young stars (probably less than one million years old) that have not yet started to shine by nuclear fusion in their cores and are still surrounded by glowing gas.
Space surveys have discovered many other very young stellar objects in this region, which is one of the closest such dusty stellar nurseries to the Sun.
Star formation regions can be massive, such as the Tarantula Nebula where hundreds of massive stars are being formed. However, astronomers contend that most of the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy and other galaxies are thought to have formed in much more modest regions like the one captured in the photo, where only two bright stars are visible.
The photo is a great example of the early stages of the life of stars.