The European Southern Observatory’s “Cosmic Gems” programme is an ongoing initiative to collect astronomical images of educational interest and public outreach, showcasing the institution’s powerful telescopes during periods when they cannot be used for science observations. This composite image, captured by the Very Large Telescope’s FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph, or FORS, instrument shows a patch of sky in the Crux, or Southern Cross, constellation, a particularly bright section of the Milky Way packed with stars. The use of filters brings out spectacular blues and reds.
Showcased at the centre of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is an emission-line star known as IRAS 12196-6300 that lies some 2,300 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Crux. Under 10 million years old and not yet burning hydrogen at its core — unlike the Sun — this star is still in its infancy.