Catching a Wave

Credit: ESA/PACS & SPIRE Consortium/HOBYS Key Programme Consortia

A colorful, stellar wave crashes over a cosmic beach in this new image from the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Telescope.

Explore the dusty cosmic cloud of the Rosette Nebula. Share what you see in the image. Herschel is the largest infrared telescope launched so far. And with those infrared telescopes helping to peer through the thick dust, we see new stars forming within the Rosette Nebula. Look for the bright points of white light scattered throughout the image. In images with normal telescopes, astronomers cannot see these massive, new stars. The large stars are ten times heavier than our own Sun. These stars send out a howling stellar wind that will one day carve a hollow spot in this nebula. Pushing all that dust and gas around can also spur the formation of new stars. This area of the Rosette Nebula may be home to a star cluster one day; thousands of baby stars all formed about the same time. But large stars like those found glowing in the nebula usually live short lives before exploding in supernovae. Other stars similar in size to our Sun can be found forming in the redder areas of the image.

Herschel, launched in May 2009, is the most sensitive telescope studying what astronomers call the far-infrared. The telescope is used to find objects that are only a little warmer than the universe, such as galaxies at the edge of the universe and brown dwarfs, cool objects that started to become stars but didn’t quite have enough mass to start burning on their own. Herschel took a 60-day journey away from Earth before settling into its orbit. At this distance, Earth’s heat does not affect what astronomers see.

The Rosette Nebula is found about about 5,000 light-years away toward the constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn.

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