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A star cluster in Serpens, the serpent, blazes with the fires of hundreds of young stars. And it’s not that far away — just 1400 light-years. That should make it an easy target for telescopes. Yet until a few years ago, no one knew it even existed. That’s because the stars are still embedded in their stellar womb — a vast cloud of gas and dust that’s cold and dark. It took an infrared telescope in space to peer through the cloud and reveal the stars.
The cluster is part of a giant complex of young and developing stars that spans hundreds of light-years. Astronomers had already discovered a large cluster near the center of this complex. And in 2008, they found the new cluster in the southern part of the cloud.
Astronomers have seen several hundred “young stellar objects” in Serpens South. Some are stars, but many are proto-stars — collapsing balls of gas that aren’t yet shining as true stars.
The cluster is embedded in long, dark filaments of gas and dust. The filaments appear to be collapsing toward the stars. And gas from the larger cloud is falling onto the filaments. That’s funneling more raw materials toward the cluster, so it’s likely to give birth to more stars in the future.
Although the cluster is too faint to see, its part of the serpent is in the southern sky at nightfall, above the “teapot” outlined by the stars of Sagittarius.
We’ll talk about another stellar nursery in the serpent tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield