The Dusty Birth of a New Star

A newly formed star lights up the surrounding cosmic clouds in this image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Dust particles in the vast clouds that surround the star HD 97300 diffuse its light, like a car headlight in enveloping fog, and create the reflection nebula IC 2631. Although HD 97300 is in the spotlight for now, the very dust that makes it so hard to miss heralds the birth of additional, potentially scene-stealing, future stars. Credit: ESO.

A newly formed star lights up the surrounding cosmic clouds in this image from ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Dust particles in the vast clouds that surround the star HD 97300 diffuse its light, like a car headlight in enveloping fog, and create the reflection nebula IC 2631. Although HD 97300 is in the spotlight for now, the very dust that makes it so hard to miss heralds the birth of additional, potentially scene-stealing, future stars. Credit: ESO.

This marvelous image from the European Southern Observatory shows a small section of the Milky Way going about its business making new stars. Here you see in this dusty region the reflected light of a new main sequence star, HD 97300, as it settles down into its billion-year life span.

HD 97300 is a T-Tauri star, named after the prototypical star in the constellation Taurus. These are young stars, still emerging from their turbulent births in relatively thick clouds of interstellar gas and dust. In this image from ESO’s 2.2 meter telescope at La Silla, Chile, you see the blue light of the B9-type star reflected from a cloud of fine dust grains shrouding the star. The result is the reflection nebula IC 2631. The darker clouds of gas and dust surrounding the complex, which block out the background stars, are also visible in this image.

Like many nebulae, IC 2631 is a fleeting construct which will fade like a spring flower in the next million years. But this star-forming region will likely give birth to more stars before its gas and dust dissipates, and some of these stars may have enough mass and luminosity to excite the gas around them into an reddish-pink emission nebula like the famous Orion or Lagoon nebulae.

HD 97300 and IC 2631 are about 500 light years away in the direction of the deep-southern constellation Chamaeleon, not far from the south celestial pole.

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