For lovers of stellar beauty, the Herschel space telescope may have already earned its keep. Just one year after its launch, researchers from the European Space Agency have released this stunning image of a massive star being born in a vast bubble of cold dust.
Herschel’s far-infrared detectors are finely attuned to stellar nurseries. When a star begins to form, the dust and gas surrounding it heats up to a few tens of degrees above absolute zero, and it begins to emit far-infrared wavelengths. In the galactic bubble shown, known as RCW 120, the newborn star is the white blob at the bottom of the bubble.
The “baby” star is perhaps a few tens of thousands of years old. It is some eight to 10 times the mass of our Sun but is surrounded by about 200 times as much material. If more of that gas and dust continues to fall in on the star, the object has the potential to become one of the Milky Way Galaxy’s true giants [BBC].
Giant stars pose a particular challenge to our understanding of star formation, researchers say. Present theories suggest that stars that are larger than about 10 solar masses shouldn’t exist, because their fierce radiation should blast away the clouds that feed them materials to grow on. Yet astronomers have spotted stars that have 120 times the mass of our Sun.
Click through the gallery for a couple more amazing shots from Herschel.