NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has uncovered the darkest cloud of interstellar dust and gas ever seen; it is so dense that even background infrared radiation is blocked, casting an ominous shadow across an otherwise sparkling star field.
Though the cloud may look dark and foreboding, it's future is going to be a lot brighter. The cloud, which is about 50 light-years wide, contains enough mass for 70,000 suns and the region is ripe for the creation of potentially thousands of the most massive O-type stars, providing us with an unprecedented insight to the earliest stages of massive star formation.
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"The map of the structure of the cloud and its dense cores we have made in this study reveals a lot of fine details about the massive star and star cluster formation process," said Michael Butler, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Butler is lead author of the study that has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Stars are often born in stellar nurseries where dense clouds of gas and dust collapse under mutual gravity. When the material reaches a certain density, fusion is sparked, forming the cores of baby stars. Clusters of young stars then blast away and consume the remaining stellar material, carving out bright star clusters. Our sun was born in such a cluster but it has since drifted far from its stellar siblings over the billions of years since its early stellar nursery days.