Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cat's Paw Nebula 'littered' with baby stars

Date:
June 5, 2013
Source:
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Summary:
Most skygazers recognize the Orion Nebula, one of the closest stellar nurseries to Earth. Although it makes for great views in backyard telescopes, the Orion Nebula is far from the most prolific star-forming region in our galaxy. That distinction may go to one of the more dramatic stellar nurseries like the Cat's Paw Nebula, otherwise known as NGC 6334, which is experiencing a "baby boom."

This representative-color photo of NGC 6334 combines infrared data from the Herschel and Spitzer spacecraft and ground-based NEWFIRM instrument. Warm dust, illuminated by the high-mass stars that are scattered throughout the cloud complex, shows up in green. The red and orange spots mark the very massive young stars that are just forming within the nebula. The dark clouds, primarily at the upper left and lower right of the image, mark the densest areas where the next generation of stars will form. The hazy blue-white regions mark where the light emitted by the hot young stars is reflected back to us by the remaining dust and gas. In this photo red shows light at a wavelength of 70 microns, green is 8 microns, and blue is 1.2 microns.
Credit: S. Willis (CfA); ESA/Herschel ; NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSC; CTIO/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Most skygazers recognize the Orion Nebula, one of the closest stellar nurseries to Earth. Although it makes for great views in backyard telescopes, the Orion Nebula is far from the most prolific star-forming region in our galaxy. That distinction may go to one of the more dramatic stellar nurseries like the Cat's Paw Nebula, otherwise known as NGC 6334, which is experiencing a "baby boom."

"NGC 6334 is forming stars at a more rapid pace than Orion -- so rapidly that it appears to be undergoing what might be called a burst of star formation," said lead author Sarah Willis of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and Iowa State University. "It might resemble a 'mini-starburst,' similar to a scaled-down version of the spectacular bursts sometimes seen in other galaxies."

Willis presented a new study of NGC 6334 today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

NGC 6334 is a realm of extremes. The nebula contains about 200,000 suns' worth of material that is coalescing to form new stars, some with up to 30 to 40 times as much mass as our Sun. It houses tens of thousands of recently formed stars, more than 2,000 of which are extremely young and still trapped inside their dusty cocoons. Most of these stars are forming in clusters where the stars are spaced up to a thousand times closer than the stars in the Sun's neighborhood.

The cause of the baby boom in NGC 6334 isn't clear. Two processes often suggested to trigger bursts of star formation are blast waves from a nearby supernova explosion, or molecular cloud collisions when galaxies smash together. Neither is the case here.

That mystery is one reason why astronomers are interested in NGC 6334. Rapid star formation is often seen in luminous starburst galaxies (like the Antennae galaxies for example). Because NGC 6334 is nearby, astronomers can probe it in much greater detail, even down to counting the numbers of individual stars of various types and ages.

Starbursts also light up galaxies in the early universe, making them bright enough to study. The processes that produce these distant bursts are equally puzzling and even harder to study in detail because the objects appear so small and faint.

"Young galaxies in the early universe are small smudges of light in our telescopes, and we can only study the collective processes over the whole galaxy. Here in NGC 6334, we can count the individual stars," explained co-author Howard Smith of the CfA.

The region was observed with the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Blanco telescope at the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory. "Both space and groundbased observations were needed to identify the young stars," said Lori Allen (National Optical Astronomy Observatory), the principle investigator of the observations.

The starburst in NGC 6334 began relatively recently and will last for only a few million years -- a blink of the eye on cosmic timescales.

"We're lucky, not only because it's nearby but also because we're catching it while the starburst is happening," said Willis.

In the future, NGC 6334 will resemble multiple Pleiades star clusters, each filled with up to several thousand stars. Unfortunately, it won't look as impressive as the Pleiades to Earthbound telescopes because it is more than ten times farther away, at a distance of 5,500 light-years, and its location in the galactic plane obscures the region behind a lot of dust.

NGC 6334, in the constellation Scorpius, spans a distance of about 50 light-years and covers an area on the sky slightly larger than the full Moon.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Cat's Paw Nebula 'littered' with baby stars." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130605133602.htm>.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. (2013, June 5). Cat's Paw Nebula 'littered' with baby stars. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130605133602.htm
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Cat's Paw Nebula 'littered' with baby stars." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130605133602.htm (accessed August 28, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) Russian cosmonauts say they've found evidence of sea plankton on the International Space Station's windows. NASA is a little more skeptical. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Hello Georges

Space to Ground: Hello Georges

NASA (Aug. 18, 2014) Europe's ATV-5 delivers new science and the crew tests smart SPHERES. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Newsy (Aug. 18, 2014) The Chasqui I, hand-delivered into orbit by a Russian cosmonaut, is one of hundreds of small satellites set to go up in the next few years. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins