Universe  ID: 30858

Star Cluster Westerlund 2 in Nebula Gum 29 from Hubble

The brilliant tapestry of young stars flaring to life resembles a glittering fireworks display at the heart of Nebula Gum 29. The giant cluster of about 3,000 stars, called Westerlund 2, resides in a raucous stellar breeding ground located 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Carina.

The giant star cluster is only about 2 million years old and contains some of our galaxy's hottest, brightest, and most massive stars. Some of its heftiest stars unleash torrents of ultraviolet light and hurricane-force winds of charged particles that etch at the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud.

The nebula reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys. The pillars, composed of dense gas and thought to be incubators for new stars, are a few light-years tall and point to the central star cluster. Other dense regions surround the pillars, including reddish-brown filaments of gas and dust.

The brilliant stars sculpt the gaseous terrain of the nebula and help create a successive generation of baby stars. When the stellar winds hit dense walls of gas, the shockwaves may spark a new torrent of star birth along the wall of the cavity. The red dots scattered throughout the landscape are a rich population of newly forming stars still wrapped in their gas-and-dust cocoons. These tiny, faint stars are between 1 million and 2 million years old — relatively young stars — that have not yet ignited the hydrogen in their cores. The brilliant blue stars seen throughout the image are mostly foreground stars.

Because the cluster is very young — in astronomical terms — it has not had time to disperse its stars deep into interstellar space, providing astronomers with an opportunity to gather information on how the cluster formed by studying it within its star-birthing environment.

The image's central region, which contains the star cluster, blends visible-light data taken by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys with near-infrared exposures taken by the Wide Field Camera 3. The surrounding region is composed of visible-light observations taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys. The red colors in the nebulosity represent hydrogen; the bluish-green hues are predominantly oxygen.

For More Information

http://hubblesite.org/news_release/news/2015-12


Credits

Frank Summers (STScI): Project Support
Mark Malanoski (GST): Project Support
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team