It might sound impossible to hide a cluster of hundreds of the biggest and brightest stars in the galaxy — but it’s not. In fact, what could be the most impressive stellar nursery in the Milky Way wasn’t discovered until 2010. It’s hidden behind clouds of dust, which absorb the stars’ visible light. Astronomers found it by looking at infrared light, which shines through the dust.
The Dragonfish Nebula is about 30,000 light-years away. It’s in Crux, the southern cross, which is too far south to see from the U.S. Its contours resemble the deep-sea dragonfish.
Astronomers have discovered about 400 stars that form a cluster inside the nebula — one of the most impressive populations in the entire galaxy. All of those stars are members of the two brightest and heaviest classes of stars. They’re only a few million years old, but many of them are almost done. They’ll soon explode as supernovas.
The hottest and brightest of these stars blow away the gas and dust around them. That’s carved a hole in the nebula a hundred light-years across, forming the “mouth” of the dragonfish. As the gas flows outward, it squeezes the material around it to make more stars. Two bright clumps of newly forming stars form the fish’s “eyes.”
In all, the mass of the nebula is about a hundred thousand times the mass of the Sun. That means it’ll be giving birth to more stars for a long time to come — hidden in the depths of the Milky Way.
Script by Damond Benningfield