Space Amoeba

ESO/APEX/DSS2/ SuperCosmos/ Deharveng(LAM)/ Zavagno(LAM)

An expanding cloud of ionizing gas resembles a space amoeba. What stories do you see playing out in this nebula?

RCW120 is a star forming nebula about ten light-years across. Huge amounts of ultraviolet radiation are given off by the hot, massive star in the center of this image from the European Southern Observatory. The ultraviolet radiation excites the gas cloud causing the hydrogen atoms to glow red. The massive star’s strong solar wind is causing the bubble to expand. As the hot bubble slams into the cold interstellar gas and dust surrounding the star, clumps form. These clumps may eventually start to collapse under gravity, causing new stars to form.

Astronomers used different cameras at the ESO observatory in Chile to catch different kinds of light. Areas shown in red are taken from the SuperCosmost H-alpha survey, while the surrounding faint glow of the blue-white clouds was taken from the 12-meter Atacama Pathfnder Experiment (APEX) Telescope. Combining the images gives scientists a better view of the dynamics inside RCW120.

RCW120 is found about 4,200 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpion.

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