Image: The Gum 19 star-forming nebula
The Gum 19 star-forming nebula, as photographed in the infrared by the European Southern Observatory’s New Technology Telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, appears half-light, half-dark.
updated 3/31/2010 3:36:29 PM ET 2010-03-31T19:36:29

Astronomers have captured a new photo of a two-faced nebula that appears dark on one side and bright on the other.

The new photo shows a striking view of the nebula, which is a gathering of gas, dust and stars about 22,000 light-years away from Earth. The little-known celestial object, called Gum 19, is illuminated by an extremely huge, hot star called V391 Velorum.

The surface temperature of this star is a scorching 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit (30,000 degrees Celsius). It gives off mostly blue light, and its brightness can fluctuate wildly as a result of its dynamic nature and ejections of outer layers of gas.

Since stars that burn so brightly don't usually last very long (they "live fast and die young"), V391 Velorum is expected to die violently in a supernova explosion after a total lifetime of about 10 million years — relatively short on a cosmic scale.

V391 Velorum is illuminating one half of the nebula in a bright blue glow, while the other side appears shaded in a dusty red haze.

Along the boundary between the two halves, scientists think new stars are being born in areas called HII ("H-two") regions, which are spots where hydrogen gas has been heated up to the point that the atoms lose their electrons.

Bright HII regions often denote areas of active star formation, where gas and dust collapse under their own weight and begin nuclear fusion, igniting as new stars.

The new photo of Gum 19 was captured by an infrared camera called SOFI on the European Southern Observatory's New Technology Telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

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