It would be adorable if it weren’t so massive, hot and violent: the ESO has just released this brilliant new image of the Cat’s Paw Nebula, one of the most active star nurseries in our galaxy. Through beautiful swirls of gas and dust, the image captures a 50-light-years-wide swath of space that could be home to several tens of thousands of stars, including brand new blue stars just a few million years old, youngsters by cosmic standards.
Peering deep into the heart of the Milky Way – about 5,500 light years from Earth – the European Southern Observatory’s Wide Field Imager (WFI) combined images taken through red, green and blue filters, as well one designed to pick up the light of glowing hydrogen. The light appears red because blue and green lights are more effectively absorbed or deflected by materials between Earth and the Nebula.
But perhaps the most interesting element of this image of the Cat’s Paw is what you can’t see: the clouds of hydrogen and other celestial materials are believed to be hiding many baby stars, not yet intense enough to be visible. Perhaps if you look really closely at the hi-res version, you can find one.