Today's Pretty Space Pic: Cygnus-X, a Star Nursery in Action

Cygnus-X Captured in a New Image by Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/PACS/SPIRE/Martin Hennemann & Frédérique Motte, Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/Irfu – CNRS/INSU – Univ. Paris Diderot, France.

Today in pretty space pics: The active star birthing region Cygnus-X, a chaotic complex of gas and dust in the constellation Cygnus, otherwise known as the Swan. Captured by the far infrared sensors of the ESA's Herschel Space Observatory, the image gives astronomers a unique view massive star birth perviously unavailable at these wavelengths.

By way of color-coding, the bright white areas (especially to the right-hand side of the image) depict areas where brand new, very large stars are forming from these dense knots where filaments of gas and dust meet, condense, and collapse in on themselves, kicking off the fusion reaction that jump-starts a star. While the center of the image looks empty, there are actually stars there that Herschel simply can't see at these wavelengths. But astronomers know they are there because they have carved out and gently heated the interstellar material there, giving it its blue glow.

As for the red strings of gas throughout, these are the seeds of stars, not yet compacted enough to create the kind of conditions necessary to spawn a new generation of stars. And if you look to the left of center with an open mind, you'll see it: the pillar of interstellar gas arcing gracefully like the neck of a swan. See it all much larger by clicking through to the ESA.