A new image of the Prawn Nebula reveals “cosmic recycling.” Clusters of glowing “newborn stars” illuminate gas expelled from a dead stellar generation, which will eventually form newer stars, reports Space.com.
The image captured by a telescope at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the reddish nebula dotted with young blue stars.
Prawn Nebula – also referred to as IC 4628 and Gum 56 – is hard to see with the naked eye in spite of being nearly 250 light-years across. The nebula is very faint, and emits light at wavelengths invisible to humans.
The area where Prawn Nebula and its infant stars reside has gone largely unexplored, in spite of the “two very unusual blue giants in this area and the prominence of the nebula at infrared and radio wavelengths,” said ESO officials in a statement.
Given the two very unusual blue giants in this area and the prominence of the nebula at infrared and radio wavelengths, it is perhaps surprising that this region has been comparatively little studied as yet by professional astronomers.
The two blue giants ESO refers to are rare O-type stars – very large, very hot, and glowing blue white. These stars have a short life span, due to their size and heat they tend to burn out quickly, reports CNET. Their brief lives end in intense supernovas before collapsing into neutron stars or black holes.
The gas of the Prawn Nebula glows mostly because of the two blue giants, but they get some help from the other younger stars. The blue giants give off enormous amounts of ultraviolet radiation, which is what breaks down the hydrogen gas of the nebula into nuclei and electrons. The process is called ionization.
When the nuclei and electrons reunite, their energy levels are higher than before. The extra energy is released in the form of light, which causes the nebula to glow.
Earlier this week, the Hubble telescope captured imagery of The Twin Jet Nebula, which resembles a cosmic butterfly.