You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful photograph of hot young stars than the one recently released by NASA in association with the Hubble Space Telescope. Hey. Get your mind out of the gutter. It isn’t those kind of stars we’re talking about.
About 77% of the galaxies in the universe are spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way. This particular spiral galaxy, called IC 5052, can be seen in the southern hemisphere in the constellation of el Pavo (The Peacock), and it’s certainly lovely enough to earn that name. However, it does present a challenge since we are viewing it from the side.
You can’t easily tell from our viewing angle, but IC 5052 is a barred spiral galaxy, which means that the arms of the pinwheel do not meet in the center. Instead, there is a long “bar” of stars that runs through the center, and the arms are attached to either end of that bar.
What makes this picture special are the bursts of blue light captured in the photograph. NASA said that each of these blue bursts represents a region where extremely hot young stars are being born. The long bar at the center of the galaxy may actually facilitate the formation of new stars by channeling material from the galaxy’s spiral arms toward the nurseries.
You probably don’t have a fancy space telescope of your own, but you can still see young stars being born. In the winter sky, look for the constellation of Orion. With the help of a sky map and a pair of binoculars, you can see the Orion nebula. Some of its newest stars may be as young as 300,000 years old — which is apparently mere babyhood where stars are concerned.
Of course, the night sky isn’t just about fresh new faces. Last week, Hubble announced that they had found a star older than our 12 billion year old galaxy.
The hot young stars in IC 5052 have a long way to go to reach that birthday.
[photo courtesy ESA/NASA and Hubble]