These two gas clouds may reside side-by-side within the Large Magellanic Cloud, but as their distinctive coloring suggests, they're an interstellar odd couple.

The image of these two two gas clouds, called NGC 2014 and NGC 2020, was captured by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Space Agency's Paranal Observatory in Chile.


The Large Magellanic Cloud, a kind of sidekick galaxy to the Milky Way, is actively producing new stars. It's located about 163,000 light years from Earth, which is freakishly close as far as these things are concerned.

The dramatic variation in the coloring of these two clouds is the result of different chemical compositions in the surrounding gas and the temperatures of the stars that are causing the clouds to glow. The ESO explains:

The pink-tinged cloud on the right, NGC 2014, is a glowing cloud of mostly hydrogen gas. It contains a cluster of hot young stars. The energetic radiation from these new stars strips electrons from the atoms within the surrounding hydrogen gas, ionising it and producing a characteristic red glow.

In addition to this strong radiation, massive young stars also produce powerful stellar winds that eventually cause the gas around them to disperse and stream away. To the left of the main cluster, a single brilliant and very hot star seems to have started this process, creating a cavity that appears encircled by a bubble-like structure called NGC 2020. The distinctive blueish colour of this rather mysterious object is again created by radiation from the hot star — this time by ionising oxygen instead of hydrogen.

Here's the image in all its splendor:


Image: ESO/VLT.

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