April 19 (UPI) -- The Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its 28th anniversary with a double portrait of the Lagoon Nebula, a giant, oft-photographed interstellar cloud.
The juxtaposed images, released Thursday by NASA, showcase the emissions nebula in two different spectral bands: one in visible light and the other rendered in near-infrared.
The visible-light image showcases the nebula's gas and dust, while the near-infrared photograph reveals the multitude of stars found within.
The two images reveal the two ingredients that make nebulas what they are: star-forming material and stars.
Gas and dust are essentials to stellar formation, and as they fuel the formation of new stars, stellar winds contort the surrounding star-forming materials into a variety of textures and shapes -- nobs, columns, strands, streams. As the gas and dust absorb energy and reemit radiation at various frequencies, these unique structures glow an array of colors.
As seen in the image on the left, the nebula's waves and walls of gas and dust obscure the star-making magic hiding with and around. However, the massive plumes of gas and dust can't totally hide the luminosity of the nebula's central star, Herschel 36.
Herschel 36 is less than a million years old, young by star standards. It's also massive. Herschel 36 is 32 times more massive, 40,000 times hotter and 200,000 times brighter than the sun.
The Lagoon Nebula is situated roughly 5,000 light-years from the Earth. Its dimensions are roughly 110 by 50 light-years. Even when rendered in near-infrared, a few gray clouds remain.
While the Hubble Space Telescope is unable to penetrate the nebula's densest clouds, the forthcoming James Webb Telescope will see right through them.