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OUR BEAUTIFUL UNIVERSE: John Herschel’s discoveries in close-up

Published on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 09:14

OBU.eso1425aTwo star-forming regions in the Milky Way, NGC 3603 (left) and NGC 3576 (right). (ESO/G Beccari)

Here, in one image from the European Southern Observatory’s Wide Field Imager at La Silla Observatory, Chile, are two star-formation regions in the Milky Way, both discovered by John Herschel in 1834. Herschel was based near Cape Town, South Africa, on a three-year expedition to survey the southern skies.

He observed the cluster on the left on 14 March 1834, describing it as a remarkable object. Now known as NGC 3603, this bright star cluster 20,000 light-years away has the highest concentration of massive stars in the Milky Way, with a Wolf-Rayet multiple-star system at its centre. These massive, evolved stars develop intense stellar winds, which are providing the illumination for the massive cloud of hydrogen gas around NGC 3603, an area of intense star formation.

Star formation is also a feature of the nebula on the right, NGC 3576, which is much closer to Earth at 9000 ly away. The prominent curved filaments like the horns of a goat are 100 ly long and arise from winds from hot young stars in the heart of the nebula. Dark regions in the nebula suggest sites of future star formation.

This image is published in the October 2014 issue of Astronomy & Geophysics.


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