Stars in Stars


Bril­liant blue stars of NGC 6604 are scat­tered widely in the rich starfields of Ser­pens, the Ser­pent in this image from the Euro­pean South­ern Observatory.

Zoom into the neb­ula deep in the sweep of the Milky Way. What sto­ries or shapes do you see? Leave a note in the com­ments below.

The star clus­ter NGC 6604 is a young star clus­ter with only a few hun­dred hot blue-white stars. The clus­ter lies within its birth neb­ula. The glow­ing hydro­gen gas is a per­fect place for new stars to be born. Parts of the dust cloud col­lapse under grav­ity. As more and more mate­r­ial gath­ers, the grav­ity becomes stronger and starts to warm. Even­tu­ally, the tem­per­a­ture at the heart of the spin­ning cloud of gas and dust might become high enough to allow for fusion to take place. When that hap­pens, a star is born. The hot blue stars give off a strong solar wind push­ing the dust cloud away. The stars also give off blis­ter­ing ultra­vi­o­let radi­a­tion that excites the atoms within the neb­ula caus­ing it to glow.

Astronomers using the ESO’s Wide Field Imager attached to the 2.2-meter MPG/ESO tele­scope at the La Silla Obser­va­tory in Chile cap­tured this image of the faint neb­ula and star clsuter. NGC 6604 lies about 5,500 light-years from Earth. The star clus­ter is eas­ily seen in small tele­scopes. The sur­round­ing neb­ula, how­ever, is very faint. Astronomers using pho­to­graphic film dis­cov­ered the neb­ula only in the 20th century.

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The ancient peo­ples saw pic­tures in the sky. From those pat­terns in the heav­ens, ancient sto­ry­tellers cre­ated leg­ends about heroes, maid­ens, drag­ons, bears, cen­taurs, dogs and myth­i­cal crea­tures…
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