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Image reveals new insights into star birth

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Telescopes on the ground and in space have teamed up to compose a stunning image of the star-studded region NGC 346 that reveals new information about how stars form.

In the colourful picture, different wavelengths of light swirl together like watercolours.

The picture combines infrared, visible and X-ray light from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, ESO's New Technology Telescope (NTT) and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton orbiting X-ray telescope.

The NTT visible-light images unveiled glowing gas in the region and the unusual combination of information reveals new insights.

NGC 346 is the brightest star-forming region in the Small Magellanic Cloud, an irregular dwarf galaxy that orbits the Milky Way at a distance of 210,000 light-years.

'NGC 346 is a real astronomical zoo,’ says lead researcher Dimitrios Gouliermis of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

Small stars are scattered throughout the NGC 346 region, while massive stars populate its centre.

These massive stars and most of the small ones formed at the same time out of one dense cloud, while other less massive stars were created later through a process called 'triggered star formation’.

During this process, intense radiation from the massive stars ate away at the surrounding dusty cloud, triggering gas to expand and create shock waves that compressed nearby cold dust and gas into new stars.

The red-orange filaments surrounding the centre of the image show where this process happened.

However, this mechanism failed to explain the formation of a set of younger low-mass stars, seen as a pinkish blob at the top of the image.

By combining the multi-wavelength data of NGC 346, Gouliermis and his team pinpointed the trigger as a very massive star that blasted apart in a supernova explosion about 50,000 years ago.

Fierce winds from the massive dying star pushed gas and dust together, compressing it into new stars. A bubble created when the massive star exploded can be seen near the large, white spot with a blue halo near the middle of the image.

The findings demonstrate that both wind- and radiation-induced triggered star formation can happen in the same cloud.


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Stunning photo Owlscrying! And amazing that they can learn so much from it. I'm happily oblivious when it comes to Astronomy, but I still love browsing through all the imagery, lol.

Thanks for posting this!

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Share on other sites transmits so much beauty<3

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