Behold V1331Cyg, a young star located 1,800 light-years from Earth. This object, which is illuminating the dark cloud around it in spectacular fashion, is in the process of contracting as it becomes a main sequence star similar to the Sun.
This strikingly vivid image of a snail-like reflection nebula was recently captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Reflection nebulae are clouds of interstellar dust which reflect the light of nearby stars. In this case, V1331 is illuminating Lynds 981, a dark cloud also known as LDN 981.
The Hubble site explains the significance of the image:
What makes V1331Cyg special is the fact that we look almost exactly at one of its poles. Usually, the view of a young star is obscured by the dust from the circumstellar disc and the envelope that surround it. However, with V1331Cyg we are actually looking in the exact direction of a jet driven by the star that is clearing the dust and giving us this magnificent view.
This view provides an almost undisturbed view of the star and its immediate surroundings allowing astronomers to study it in greater detail and look for features that might suggest the formation of a very low-mass object in the outer circumstellar disc.
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Image credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Karl Stapelfeldt (GSFC), B. Stecklum and A. Choudhary (Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Germany.