A detailed infrared view of the Rosette Nebula shows dense knots of gas and dust where new stars are forming, surrounded by vast clouds of more diffuse material. The Rosette is one of the largest stellar nurseries in our region of the galaxy, spanning more than 100 light-years and weighing as much as 10,000 suns. This false-color image was snapped by Herschel, a European infrared space observatory that recently completed its mission. [A/PACS & SPIRE Consortium/HOBYS Key Programme Consortia]
Most stars begin their lives in colorful style — inside giant, glowing clouds of gas and dust. One beautiful example is the Rosette Nebula, which looks like a delicate rose. It’s in Monoceros, the unicorn, and is well up in the south-southeast at nightfall.
The Rosette is one of the biggest and heaviest stellar nurseries in our part of the galaxy. It spans more than a hundred light-years, and is about 10,000 times more massive than the Sun. It’s already given birth to hundreds of stars, and many more are still taking shape.
The biggest and brightest stars form a cluster at the center of the nebula. Energy from these stars zaps the remaining hydrogen gas around them, causing it to glow reddish-pink.
The stars also produce powerful winds. The winds have cleared out a wide cavity around these stars, shutting down the process of starbirth.
But farther away, the winds actually help that process. They squeeze clumps of gas and dust, causing them to collapse. When these clumps get dense enough, their own gravity takes over, squeezing the gas and dust into a tight ball. The center of the ball gets extremely hot, igniting nuclear fusion — and giving birth to a new star.
The stars of the Rosette are only a few million years old. Eventually, the nebula’s gas and dust will either be incorporated into stars or blown out into space. Over time, the stars most likely will spread out and go their own ways — and the colorful Rosette Nebula will vanish.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014
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