A brand new photo of the Swan Nebula taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope reveals chaotic star-making in action.
In this infrared view, the gooey-looking red stuff is made up of tiny particles of dust. The sinister green glow represents superhot gas, and the brilliant white regions are where gas and dust interact.
Located about 6,000 light-years away, the Swan Nebula, or M17, is a turbulent circus where huge hot stars spew out radiation and fierce winds of charged particles. The gaseous gusts are thought to carve out a large cavity in the dust at the center of the picture, where new stars are forming. As the cavity pushes out, winds from other giant stars nearby push back, forming ripples of gas called bow shocks, like the ripples that pile up in front of speeding boats.
"The gas being lit up in these star-forming regions looks very wispy and fragile, but looks can be deceiving," said researcher Robert Benjamin of the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, in a press release. "These bow shocks serve as a reminder that stars aren't born in quiet nurseries but in violent regions buffeted by winds more powerful than anything we see on Earth."
The observations could help point the way toward a better understanding of how stars like our own sun first came into being, and how they spawned solar systems.