You are looking right into the burning, hydrogen gas-shrouded heart of one of the biggest star nurseries that Earth astronomers have ever seen. This image was created by the European Organization for Astronomical Research (ESO), and shows part of the Gum 29 region, which researchers say is probably about 1-2 million years old (making it possibly younger than some of our hominid ancestors). Gum 29 is about 26,000 light years from Earth, at the edge of the Carina spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. And within its bright heart are two of the most massive stars we've ever seen, in a tight orbit around each other. Want to see that binary system up close?
There it is, indicated by the two lines. It looks like one enormous blob, but that's actually two stars. According to the ESO:
The two stars have masses of 82 and 83 times that of our Sun and rotate around each other in approximately 3.7 days. They are amongst the most massive stars known to astronomers. Detailed observations of this intriguing pair have also shown that they are both Wolf-Rayet stars. These are massive stars nearing the end of their lives, expelling vast quantities of material as their final swansong. Observations made in X-rays have subsequently shown that streams of material from each star continually collide, creating a blaze of X-ray radiation.
The really cool part? This was taken from a ground observatory in Chile, not a satellite telescope. Amazing clarity for a ground-based system. Claret-Colored Cloud with a Massive Heart [via ESO]