Photographers will tell you the importance of good lighting to achieve the perfect picture, and this holds true even for stars like HD 97300, a very young star whose bright light is being reflected by the IC 2631 nebula. This interaction creates a stunning visual display, shining a light on a complex and interesting region 500 light-years from Earth.
The beautiful picture of IC 2631 and HD 97300 was taken by a 2.2-meter (7.2-foot) telescope at the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile.
HD 97300 is a special type of star called a T Tauri. These objects are small in mass but have large radii, compared to stars in the main sequence. Both T Tauri and main sequence stars have similar temperatures, but T Tauri stars appear significantly brighter due to their bigger size. T Tauri stars also have not started fusing hydrogen into helium in their cores, so the light they emit is generated from the contraction of the gas cloud that formed them.
HD 97300 is the brightest star in the neighborhood of IC 2631. Thanks to that, and the star's position behind the nebula, IC 2631 has turned into a beautiful reflective nebula. Gas clouds in such nebulae scatter light from the stars back into space, a bit like how fog creates diffuse halos around lampposts and headlights.
Although HD 97300 dominates the dimmer companions and the gas clouds in terms of brightness, it’s reign won’t last forever. T Tauri stars are bright but ephemeral, and as they age and progress into maturity they lose mass and shrink. T Tauri stars are progenitors to the smallest main sequence stars.
The eventual demise of HD 97300 will not diminish the interest in this region of the sky. IC 2631 is surrounded by darker gas clouds that appear dark because they are extremely dense, the perfect environment for new stars to form. Once those stars form, their light will slowly but surely sculpt and disperse the clouds.