NASA publishes nebula image resembling celestial fireworks

Cluster of massive stars was captured by Hubble in August and December 2009.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Nov 16, 2018
In a celebration of Independence Day, NASA released an image of a nebula whose center features a collection of numerous glittering stars that look like "a burst of celestial fireworks."

The nebula, NGC 3603, located 20,000 light years away in the constellation Carina, contains the star cluster at its center, surrounded by interstellar clouds of gas and dust, the raw materials from which new stars form.

Within the central cluster, the stars are hot, huge, and massive. While individual stars have a variety of masses, sizes, colors, and temperatures, all were born at approximately the same time.

"Like a July 4 fireworks display, a young, glittering collection of stars resembles an aerial burst," NASA noted in a press release.

Star clusters typically contain stars at various stages of their lives, making the clusters ideal locations for scientists to study stellar life cycles.

Some stars in NGC 3603 are the most massive ones known to astronomers. Massive stars typically burn through their hydrogen fuel rapidly and die in supernova explosions. Their life cycles are often described as "live fast, die young."

By studying clusters of massive stars like the one in this nebula, scientists can better understand the formation process of the universe's early, very massive stars.

Such clusters are often produced when galaxies collide, generating rapid star formation.

"Appearing colorful and serene, this environment is anything but," the NASA statement noted. "Ultraviolet radiation and violent stellar winds have blown out an enormous cavity in the gas and dust enveloping the cluster."

The image is actually a composite of two separate photographs of the nebula, both taken by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Using its Wide Field Camera 3 in visible and infrared light to trace the glow of hydrogen, sulfur, and iron, Hubble took the first photo in August 2009 and the second in December 2009.

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