Baby stars are quite the prodigal sons. The moment a new star is born it begins a slow but relentless process of pushing away the parent nebula from which it came from.
In the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), one of the satellite galaxies of the Milky Way, a group of stars has created the superbubble LMC 4, a large cavity within a nebula extending for hundreds of light-years. Not all the gas was pushed away, though. Among the bright young stars, there’s an incredible nebula called LHA 120-N55, or simply N55.
N55 is the last remnant of gas and dust, and its peculiar color is due to the intense light from the new population of stars. The new group of bright blue-white stars, called LH 72, strips the hydrogen gas in the cloud of its electrons, making it glow the characteristic pinkish color we see in the image.
The glowing gas cloud LHA 120-N55 in the Large Magellanic Cloud. ESO
The pink cloud is not only stunning, it's a close-up look at a tool astronomers often use. By looking for the glow of these clouds in faraway galaxies, astronomers can estimate the amount of new stars being formed without having to spot them.
Although N55 is a peaceful region, things will dramatically change in the not-so-distant future. Many of the LH 72 stars are big and hot, and they will quickly burn through their hydrogen and become supernovae. This will create a new bubble within the superbubble, restarting the cycle once again.
The image was taken by the Very Large Telescope (VLT), which is operated by the 16 countries that are part of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The image is part of ESO’s Cosmic Gems Program, showcasing unique images to interest members of the public in astronomy. But ESO is much more than pretty pictures; it remains the world's most productive ground-based astronomical observatory.