The wisps of orangish dust seen in this image may seem insubstantial, but they serve as the cradle where stars and planets like our own are born.
NASA / JPL / STScI / AURA
|Glowing hydrogen and oxygen paint red and blue
hues in this Hubble image of the N 180B star-
forming region. Clouds of dust are shown in
orange. Click on the image for larger versions.
The latest release from the Hubble Space Telescope's team shows a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud - which is a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way, roughly 160,000 light-years from Earth. Hubble's scientists say this region, known as N 180B, contains some of the brightest-known star clusters. Some stars are said to burn a million times as brightly as our own sun.
Such stars generate storms of ultraviolet radiation and violent winds of high-speed, electrically charged particles. The UV radiation ionizes interstellar hydrogen and oxygen, setting the gases aglow - and the winds disperse the streams across tens or hundreds of light-years.
In this picture, the oxygen glows in a colorized blue, while hydrogen clouds are marked as red. You can also see streamers of dust, stretching to a length of about 100 light-years (600 trillion miles) across the nebula. Orangish clouds of compact dust appear near the bottom right and top left corners of the image.
Stalks of dust that look like elephant trunks are visible among the clouds. They could give birth to fresh generations of stars, if they're compressed enough by the stellar winds. Such trunks in a different locale, the Eagle Nebula, have been made famous by a different Hubble picture known as the "Pillars of Creation."
This picture was actually taken back in 1998 by Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, and processed by the Hubble Heritage Team. The stairstep shape of the picture, with blank spaces in the upper right corner, is the signature look for imagery from the WFPC2 ("Wiff-Pick Two") due to the camera's design.
If you haven't checked out the Heritage Team's archives, it's well worth clicking to. You can also browse through our own repository of greatest hits from Hubble and other space probes. And to keep up to date with the very latest imagery from Hubble, sign up for the Space Telescope Science Institute's "Inbox Astronomy" e-mail alerts.