Star Cluster Bursts Into Life in New Hubble Image
Thousands of sparkling young stars are nestled
within the giant nebula NGC 3603. This stellar "jewel
box" is one of the most massive young star
clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy.
NGC 3603 is a prominent star-forming region in
the Carina spiral arm of the Milky Way,
about 20,000 light-years away. This latest image
from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope
shows a young star cluster surrounded by a vast
region of dust and gas.
The image reveals stages in the life cycle of stars.
Powerful ultraviolet radiation and fast winds from
the bluest and hottest stars have blown
a big bubble around the cluster. Moving into the
surrounding nebula, this torrent of
radiation sculpted the tall, dark stalks of dense
gas, which are embedded in the walls of
the nebula. These gaseous monoliths are a few light-years
tall and point to the central
cluster. The stalks may be incubators for new stars.
On a smaller scale, a cluster of dark clouds called
"Bok" globules resides at the top, right
corner. These clouds are composed of dense dust
and gas and are about 10 to 50 times more massive
than the Sun. Resembling an insect's cocoon, a Bok
globule may be
undergoing a gravitational collapse on its way to
forming new stars.
The nebula was first discovered by Sir John Herschel
in 1834. The image spans roughly
17 light-years and was taken Dec. 29, 2005 with
the Advanced Camera for Surveys.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage
Acknowledgment: J. Maíz Apellániz (Institute of Astrophysics of Andalucía, Spain)