About 4,200 light years from Earth, a massive star is emitting torrents of ultraviolet radiation, ionising surrounding gas in an expanding bubble some 10 light years across. A shock wave sweeps up surrounding gas and dust that eventually collapses into cold clumps dense enough to provide the right conditions for star birth. But the clouds are still so cold, around -250 Celsius, that they can only be seen at submillimetre wavelengths. This image of RCW120 in the constellation Scorpius was captured in 2008 with the LABOCA camera on the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment – APEX – telescope in Chile’s Atacama desert.
Researchers have identified a young star, located almost 11,000 light-years away, which could help us understand how the most massive stars in the universe are formed. This star, already more than 30 times the mass of our Sun, is still in the process of gathering material from its parent molecular cloud, and may be even more massive when it finally reaches adulthood.
A vast star-forming region as seen by the European Space Agency’s Herschel space observatory shows a tangled web of filaments with embedded hot spots where stars are being born. Observations of such filaments indicate a common process is at work to generate such filaments — and stars — from the interstellar medium.