A birthing nebula known as RCW 34 has been photographed like never before, revealing details in a stream of gas and dust astronomers are dubbing a "champagne flow." The image was recorded by astronomers using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, managed by the European Southern Observatory.
The RCW 34 nebula is a stellar birthplace, where new stars are forming from the gaseous material found throughout the cloud. As heated gas leaks out from the nebula into outer space, the young stars within the body create bubbles which race outward from the cloud, like champagne from a bottle. This action provided the inspiration for astronomers to dub the stream as a champagne flow.
Bright, hot young stars in the brightest part of the nebula dramatically heat gas and dust within the nebula, starting the process that leads to the champagne flow. Ultraviolet light from these stellar bodies ionizes the gas, stripping electrons off the atoms within the cloud. Ionized hydrogen gas like this is common within stellar nurseries.
"Hydrogen is treasured by cosmic photographers because it glows brightly in the characteristic red colour that distinguishes many nebulae and allows them to create beautiful images with bizarre shapes. It is also the raw material of dramatic phenomena such as champagne flow. But ionised hydrogen also has an important astronomical role: it is an indicator of star-forming regions," The European Southern Observatory reported.
Star formation within RCW 34 appears to have taken place over several different periods, the new observations reveal. Stars within nebulae acting as stellar birthplaces are, usually, all about the same age. A collection of small, young stars surround more massive stellar bodies within RCW 34, analysis reveals. This could have developed from the formation of the more massive stars at the center of the group triggering the creation of stars in surrounding space.
Astronomers viewing this region must observe it in infrared light, as almost all of the visible light from that center is absorbed by gas long before it reaches Earth.
"Despite hiding away from direct view, astronomers can use infrared telescopes to peer through the dust and study the nest of embedded stars," researchers explained.
The birthing nebula RCW 34, also known as Gum 19, is located in the southern constellation of Vela. All the stars in the universe are believed to begin their lives within similar gaseous regions, from the slow accumulation of matter, perhaps triggered by the passage of a star.