In new images released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile, the Prawn Nebula displays the circle of life in stars by showing off stunning images of bright young stars formed through death of their older generation.
The term ‘young’ refers to the three clusters that are only a few million years old, recently captured under the lens of the Wield Field Imager within the ESO Cosmic Gems program. As it probably sounds, the program directs its goal into using valuable telescope time for the purpose of providing intriguing and visually attractive images of space objects or entities.
The La Silla Observatory used the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope to capture a partly image of the extensive and intricate patchwork of cloud, gas and dust within the gigantic nebula called Gum 56, or more commonly nicknamed as Prawn Nebula.
It was first named by Australian astronomer Colin Stanley Gum, who published a paper in 1955 about H II regions, such as the aforementioned Gum 56, that feature vast low-density cloud formations that contain a high number of ionized hydrogen. In Prawn Nebula’s case, it’s represented by the striking richly toned red, accentuated by the light of the surrounding stars.
The two O-type stars within the expansive stellar nursery are hot blue-white stars, otherwise known as blue giants, that cause a majority of its ionization. These types of stars are characterized by their relatively short lifespan, as they only live for around 1 million years before their large mass collapses onto itself.
According to ESO officials “the material forming these new stars includes the remains of the most massive stars” that have passed from existence.
The process can be a slow and gentle expelling of their material into space, or through a violent supernova. The nebula then becomes littered with the gas and clouds that eventually lead to the formation of a newer generation of stars, thus it completes a cycle of stellar life. One star fades, and another one will eventually spring from the remaining material.
The Prawn Nebula stands far away, at a distance of 6,000 light years from our planet within the Scorpius constellation. In spite of its massive size of 250 light years in diameter and two possibly interesting blue giants, it has been vastly understudied and overlooked by observers due to its faint aspect and near invisibility to the naked eye.
Beyond the unfortunate impairing obstacles it faces though, the Prawn Nebula nearly bursts with activity and new star formations, that take shape within the beautiful stellar nursery from the gas and debris of their older generation.
Image source: apod.nasa.gov