When it was captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2011, the bipolar shape of the star-forming region called Sharpless 2-106 (S106) was likened to a “celestial snow angel,” with wings of hot, bubbling gas.
Measuring several light-years in length, S106 lies nearly 2,000 light-years from Earth, in a relatively isolated region of the Milky Way. In the image of S106 (above), you can see twin lobes of super-hot gas stretching outward with stellar winds and the high energy radiation coming from the massive newborn star in the center -- called Infrared Source 4. These are, of course, false colors: blue light represents hotter gas along the interior of the lobes, and red light comes from cooler gas along the exterior. The sharp resolution of the Wide Field Camera 3 reveals ripples of gas as it interacts with the colder interstellar medium.
A ring of dust and gas orbiting the central star cinches the expanding nebula, giving it an hourglass shape. Additionally, the light emanating from the star reflects off of tiny dust particles, illuminating the darker (red) filaments of dust winding below the (blue) lobes. Encompassing the nebula are several hundred brown dwarfs, or “failed” stars with low mass that can’t produce sustained energy through nuclear fusion like the Sun.
Here is a scientific visualization of an hourglass-shaped nebula where stars are being born. The Hubble image has been augmented with additional field-of-view from the Subaru Infrared Telescope. Combining previous research with intuition (and artistic license as needed), visualizers separated the stars and the lobes of glowing gas from the Hubble/Subaru 2D image to create the depth of the 3D view in this movie.
Check out the amazing collection of videos on HubbleSite, including the Horsehead Nebula and Carina Nebula.
Visualization: G. Bacon, T. Borders, L. Frattare, Z. Levay, and F. Summers (STScI)