It’s images like this, with a thousand thousand cosmic Christmas trees a-twinkling, that make me wish I could be out there, floating on the night. (Preferably with some protective gear and a breathing apparatus.)
ESO is releasing a magnificent VLT image of the giant stellar nursery surrounding NGC 3603, in which stars are continuously being born. Embedded in this scenic nebula is one of the most luminous and most compact clusters of young, massive stars in our Milky Way, which therefore serves as an excellent “local” analogue of very active star-forming regions in other galaxies. The cluster also hosts the most massive star to be “weighed” so far.
NGC 3603 is a starburst region: a cosmic factory where stars form frantically from the nebula’s extended clouds of gas and dust. Located 22 000 light-years away from the Sun, it is the closest region of this kind known in our galaxy, providing astronomers with a local test bed for studying intense star formation processes, very common in other galaxies, but hard to observe in detail because of their great distance from us. [Read more.]