One of the galaxy's youngest stars surrounds itself with massive nebula

Illustration for article titled One of the galaxys youngest stars surrounds itself with massive nebula

A giant star known as IRS 4 is one of the rare stars that's actually younger than the human race. Formed just 100,000 years ago, it's already leaving its mark on the cosmos, creating that huge hourglass-shaped nebula.


Of course, exactly which star is IRS 4 might not be immediately obvious. The massive star in this photo certainly seems to be that big, radiant star up top, but that actually isn't what's creating these massive nebular clouds. Instead, look right at the center of the two clouds. That pale red and white dot right in the middle there is actually IRS 4. "IRS" itself stands for "infrared source", meaning it's not easily seen in regular optical wavelengths. You can get a closer look by clicking on the above image for a magnified version.

And yet, as a NASA astronomer explains, IRS 4 doesn't need to be seen in order to make its presence known:

material streaming out from this newborn star has formed the nebula dubbed Sharpless 2-106 Nebula (S106), pictured above. A large disk of dust and gas orbiting Infrared Source 4 (IRS 4), visible in dark red near the image center, gives the nebula an hourglass or butterfly shape. S106 gas near IRS 4 acts as an emission nebula as it emits light after being ionized, while dust far from IRS 4 reflects light from the central star and so acts as a reflection nebula. Detailed inspection of images like the above image has revealed hundreds of low-mass brown dwarf stars lurking in the nebula's gas. S106 spans about 2 light-years and lies about 2000 light-years away toward the constellation of the Swan (Cygnus).



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Guru Meditation Error

Are all the pictures of stars and space stuff like this just artist's renditions? Because these just amaze me every time.