These swirling hydrogen clouds are given their stunning colors by the intense ultraviolet radiation emanating from the newborn stars within. And that massive star right in the middle is so radiant that it's changing the shape of this nebula.

This is the nebula NGC 2467, located some 13,000 light-years from Earth. First discovered in the nineteenth century, the nebula lies within the constellation Puppis in the southern hemisphere. The image you see up top (click on it to see the ultra high-res version) was assembled from images taken by the Hubble Telescope back in 2004. Three different color filters were used to bring out the full majesty of the nebula.

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Still, NGC 2467 isn't just beautiful - it's also a working lesson in astrophysics. The new stars shine more brightly than they ever will again, emitting so much radiation that the surrounding clouds of hydrogen gas begin to erode. In particular, the huge, bright star in the upper center of the image is responsible for most of the radiation emanating from the nebula. It's clearing away massive amounts of the surrounding cloud, and this processes pushes the denser regions of the nebula elsewhere. Although some of the new stars are shining through, many more are still hidden behind the clouds, just waiting to make their first appearance to Earth astronomers.

[Hubble]