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03 September 2015
Prawn Nebula Photo Offers Stunning Glimpse of 'Cosmic Recycling'
A new view of the Prawn Nebula shows "cosmic recycling" at work: Glowing clusters of newborn stars illuminate surrounding gas, expelled from an earlier stellar generation, which will eventually form into even newer stars.
The 2.2-meter telescope at the European Southern Obsevatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile snapped a choice section of the reddish nebula studded by young blue stars in a newly released image. The nebula, also called Gum 56 and IC 4628, is hard to see with the naked eye although it's around 250 light-years across — it is very faint, and mostly emits light at wavelengths not visible to humans.
That invisibility conceals a lot of action, as new stars form from the stellar nursery of the nebula's gas and debris: "The material forming these new stars includes the remains of the most massive stars from an older generation that have already ended their lives and ejected their material in violent supernova explosions," ESO officials said in a statement. "Thus the cycle of stellar life and death continues." When the dust and gas grows dense enough, a portion will collapse down into the beginnings of a star.