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August 11, 2011

Our stellar neighborhood is quiet and sedate. Most of the stars within hundreds of light-years are fairly small and faint, and they're the stellar equivalent of middle-aged. And few new stars are taking shape.

There's a neighborhood in the constellation Cygnus, though, that's been described as a "seething cauldron" of stellar activity. It contains tens of thousands of young stars, many of which are huge and powerful. And thousands of more stars are taking shape there, veiled by the clouds of gas and dust that are giving them birth.

Cygnus-X is about 5500 light-years away. In the sky, it's near the middle of Cygnus, around the star that marks the middle of the swan's body. That star isn't part of Cygnus-X, though, because it's much closer.

Cygnus-X is one of the most remarkable regions of the galaxy. It contains several large clumps of stars woven together by giant filaments of gas and dust. The clumps are dominated by the two hottest and brightest classes of stars, many of which will end their lives with titanic explosions.

The heaviest stars in Cygnus-X have already done just that. The explosions carved big bubbles in the surrounding gas and dust. They also squeezed the clouds around them, triggering the birth of more stars.

Most of the stars of Cygnus-X are only a few million years old -- just one or two percent of the Sun's age. And many are just now emerging as true stars -- keeping Cygnus-X young and vigorous.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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