Hubble celebrates 33rd year in space with ethereal image of star-forming region

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, meaning that it completed its 33rd year in space earlier this month. Astronomers are celebrating this anniversary with an exquisite image of a relatively nearby star-forming region.

NGC 1333 is a nebula in the Perseus molecular cloud located about 960 light-years-away. Interestingly, molecules that are considered the building blocks of life were discovered in the same molecular cloud recently.

According to NASA, the colourful view from Hubble reveals a melting pot of glowing gases and dust that is stirred up and blown around by the many newly-forming stars embedded in the dark clouds of dust. This area of the universe can be thought of as a galactic nursery because of the amount of star formation that goes on there.

Hubble had to peer through a veil of dust at the edge of a giant cloud of cold molecular hydrogen to create this image. The cold molecular hydrogen is the raw material that forms new stars and planets with the persistent pull of gravity. Star formation is a messy process.

At the top of the image, fierce stellar winds are blowing through the curtain of dust. This fine dust scatters the starlight at blue wavelengths.

Further down the image, another bright, super-hot star shines through filaments of obscuring dust. This is what looks like the sun shining through scattered clouds. The diagonal string of fainter stars look reddish because the dust is filtering the starlight and allowing red light to go through.

At the bottom of the image, you can catch a peek into the dark nebula through a “cosmic keyhole.” There are several overlapping events, which makes that part of the image look a bit like a fireworks display.

These overlapping events are caused by really thin jets shooting out from newly-forming stars outside the frame of view. These stars are surrounded by discs that may eventually produce planets. There are also powerful magnetic fields that direct two parallel beams of hot gas deep into space. These beams sculpt patterns on the hydrogen gas.


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