A breathtaking image shared on the NASA website reveals a spectacular view of nebula NGC 3603, home to some of the most massive stars in our galaxy.
Titled “Celestial Fireworks,” the photo release resembles a burst of fireworks on the night’s sky, echoing the upcoming festivities marking the Fourth of July.
“Like a July 4 fireworks display, a young, glittering collection of stars resembles an aerial burst,” NASA officials wrote in the description of the image, captured nine years ago by the Hubble Space Telescope.
NGC 3603 nebula is one of the most captivating places in the Milky Way. Located some 20,000 light-years from our planet, in the Carina constellation, the nebula lies in the Milky Way’s Carina spiral arm and is one of the largest star-birth regions in the galaxy.
The Hubble image above, snapped in August and December 2009 in two different spectra, shows the giant cluster of huge stars that make up NGC 3603 enveloped in interstellar clouds of gas and dust.
“Appearing colorful and serene, this environment is anything but,” states the U.S. space agency.
This is because the NGC 3603 nebula is chock-full of massive stars that “live fast and die young,” ending in violent supernova explosions as soon as they go though all their hydrogen reserves.
Taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) in both visible and infrared light, the image showcases the dazzling light show put on by the nebula’s stars, while also tracing the glow of sulfur, hydrogen, and iron inside NGC 3603.
According to the European Space Agency, a lot of the bright stars in nebula NGC 3603 “are hot, blue stars” that “produce ultraviolet radiation and violent winds,” which have carved “an enormous cavity in the gas and dust surrounding the cluster.”
While most of the stars within the nebula are the same age, since they were formed at the same time — around 1 or 2 million years ago, notes NASA — they differ greatly in mass and size, as well as in temperature and color.
This makes for magnificent snapshots — just like the Hubble photo below, released in 2007 and spanning about 17 light-years — while also providing a unique insight into the life cycle of stars.
“The course of a star’s life is determined by its mass, so a cluster of a given age will contain stars in various stages of their lives, giving an opportunity for detailed analyses of stellar life cycles,” explains NASA.
Aside from yielding the sensational “celestial fireworks” seen above, this remarkable star cluster could help astronomers understand more about how massive stars were formed in the early universe.