Hills and Valleys

Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Hills and valleys make up the starry landscape of the star-forming region of NGC 3324. This image from NASA’s Hubble Space telescope shows the edge of a giant cavity of gas. Glowing blue light sets the backdrop for wisps of gas and dark trunks of dust. Ultraviolet radiation and howling solar winds from a cluster of extremely massive and hot young stars outside the image, are causing the nebula to glow. The stars are also pushing gas and dust away from the center to form the wall of the cavity.

Look in the blue area near the edge and find wispy tendrils of gas coming from the edge of the cloud. The blistering radiation is causing the edge of the cloud to evaporate. This process slowly erodes the edge of the nebula. A dark tower of gas and dust, just left of center, points toward the source of the strong current of solar wind. The pillar reaches more than a light-year into the cavity and is resisting the strong solar wind. This tower, similar to towers seen in Eagle Nebula, may become new stars one day. As the dust and gas are pushed and compressed by the solar wind, it might begin to collapse under its own gravity. If enough material is available, a star is born and begins to glow. The edge of the cloud we see in this image is just a portion of a huge cavity of gas that is dozens of light-years across. The distance between the Sun and the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, could easily fit inside this nebula.

NGC 3324 is located in the Carina Nebula, a huge star-making nebula about 7,200 light-years away. The Carina Nebula lies in the southern constellation Carina, the Keel, and is home to the Keyhole Nebula and Eta Carina, an active star.

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