Baby Stars Cook In the Heart of the Prawn Nebula

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New VLT image of the Prawn Nebula (Credit: ESO. Acknowledgement: Martin Pugh)

Giant clumps of newborn stars are stirred amongst clouds of dark dust and glowing gas in this amazing new image of IC 4628, also known as the “Prawn Nebula.”

Featured in the 1,000th press release from ESO, this is the sharpest view ever obtained of this star-forming emission nebula, located 6,000 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius.

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This image was taken by the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. The VST is the largest telescope in the world designed for surveying the sky in visible light. Its OmegaCAM camera contains 32 CCD detectors that together create enormous 268-megapixel images… and this is a mosaic made from two of them skillfully enhanced further by amateur astronomer Martin Pugh.

Got bandwidth to spare? Download the nearly 1-gigabyte full-size image here.

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It’s the hot young blue stars cooked up within the Prawn Nebula that make it glow so beautifully. The intense ultraviolet radiation emitted by the stars ionizes the hydrogen gas in the clouds, creating the red glow.

The entire region is as wide in the sky as four full moons, but is too faint to be visible without the aid of telescopes.

Read more on the ESO news release.