Discovered by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop in 1826, NGC 986 is a spectacular face-on spiral galaxy in the constellation Fornax that is often overlooked thanks to its proximity to the famously rich Fornax galaxy cluster. Located about 56 million light years from Earth, NGC 986 features a central bar-like structure similar to one sported by the Milky Way and about two thirds of all spiral galaxies. Bars are thought to play a role in star formation, helping funnel gas inward from a galaxy’s spiral arms, and may be a temporary phenomena. This image was captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and the FORS instrument, or FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph.
In the brightest region of this glowing nebula called RCW 34, gas is heated dramatically by young stars and expands through the surrounding cooler gas, bursting outwards into the vacuum like the contents of an uncorked champagne bottle. But RCW 34 has more to offer than a few bubbles; there seem to have been multiple episodes of star formation within the same cloud.