This is a stellar nursery, uncovered by an incredibly powerful telescope that first detected these stars behind the dust. The Herschel space telescope is exploring the universe's infrared wavelengths, turning up incredible new discoveries like this one.

This particular image is just an artist's conception, but there wouldn't be anything for the artist to conceptualize without this discovery by the Herschel Space Telescope. Launched by the European Space Agency in 2009, it's just now revealing the first results of its exploration of the universe's infrared energy, and this find is one of the most dramatic.

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This stellar nursery is located some 1,000 light-years away in the constellation Aquila. About 65 light-years across, it's so shrouded in dust that previous telescopes had been unable to see the stars contained within. Although most of the energy in the universe is infrared, Herschel is the first telescope really designed to peer into these wavelengths. It can do the job because of its huge 11.5 foot diameter mirror, which is big enough to capture longer wavelengths such as infrared.

Principal investigator Göran Pilbratt explains the tremendous potential of Herschel:

"Herschel has discovered hundreds of stars forming in the Aquila molecular cloud, and in other areas, Herschel has discovered thousands of infrared galaxies in just hours of observing. Herschel has made a spectral scan of the Orion nebula with about 100,000 spectral features, you could go on and on, and still this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is coming."

The space telescope uses sophisticated electronics that require constant cooling from super-cold helium. That gives the telescope a relatively short lifespan of just 3.5 to 4 years, but the hope is that it can turn up more than enough amazing new finds such as this to make the project more than worthwhile.

[Astronomy & Astrophysics]