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Cosmic clouds illuminated by newborn stars in new ESO photo

Scientists aren't sure how these massive stars form or manage to hold on to so much stellar gas.
By Brooks Hays   |   March 2, 2016 at 11:32 AM

CERRO PARANAL, Chile, March 2 (UPI) -- A new image published by the European Southern Observatory features a series of rare, massive stars shrouded by thick and sprawling crimson-colored gas cloud. The stars themselves can't be seen via visible light, but their energy gives the surrounding cosmic gas its penetrating glow.

The red cloud is known as RCW 106. It's located 12,000 light-years away in the southern constellation Norma, and is part of a region of the southern Milky Way called H II.

The snaking, sporadic shapes of the cloud are caused by the violent energy of the stars buried within. These young, super-hot stars ionize the cloud's hydrogen gas with their intense energy, while their stellar winds blow the cloud's gas into interesting shapes.

Astronomers have been studying RCW 106 for some time, but they struggled to learn much about the hidden stars. Though they can't be seen via visible light, their presence is revealed by longer wavelengths.

Researchers classify the shrouded stars as O-type stars. The stars are several times more massive than the sun, but scientists aren't sure how they form or manage to hold on to so much stellar gas.

In addition to being hidden by thick gas and dust clouds, O-type stars lead relatively brief lives. The majority of them burn up their stellar fuel in tens of millions of years -- a blink of an eye in cosmic time.

The latest image of RCW 106, captured by the ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile, doesn't bring astronomers any closer to understanding the origins of O-type stars, but it does make for some dramatic viewing.

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