NASA has gifted us an out-of-this-world present just in time for America’s birthday. Resembling a July 4 fireworks display, the image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope shows a cluster of stars known as NGC 3603. While it may look like a peaceful scene, the space agency warns it is anything but.
"Powerful ultraviolet radiation and fast winds from the bluest and hottest stars have blown an enormous cavity in the gas and dust enveloping the cluster," note NASA in a statement. "This bubble provides an unobstructed view of the cluster and reveals stages in the life cycle of stars."
Visible in the Milky Way, this cluster of hot stars is located 20,000 light-years away in a constellation called Carina. The star cluster in the nebula is surrounded by a cloud of interstellar gas and dust, mostly hydrogen and helium. Together, these gases and dust make up the raw material for new star formation.
Scientists believe star formation in this region has been occurring for at least 10 to 20 million years, at an increasing rate. Stars form inside of nebulae when gravity brings together dust and gases to form clumps. The gravity of these clumps becomes stronger and stronger as they eventually get bigger. Ultimately, the clumps get so big that they collapse from their own gravity, causing material at the center of the clouds to heat up and birth a new star.
Most of the stars found in NGC 3603 were born at about the same time, but vary in size, mass, temperature, and color. A star’s mass determines the course of its life, according to a statement by the space agency, so a cluster of any given age will contain stars at various stages of their life. NGC 3603 contains some of the most massive stars and are known to “live fast and die young”. They burn through their hydrogen fuel quickly and end their lives in dramatic supernova explosions. Its proximity means NGC 3603 is an “excellent laboratory” for star formation in the early universe.
Photographers were able to trace the glow of sulfur, hydrogen, and iron by using both visible and infrared light.