Saturday, May 8, 2010

Strange shapes in space

The shapes of bubbles and clouds in outer space demonstrate that physics can do some pretty bizarre things on a giant scale.

Take RCW 120, for example. The star-forming bubble, about 4,200 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius, is the subject of a European Space Agency picture celebrating the first anniversary of the Herschel space telescope's launch.

Radiation from a hot, massive star at the bubble's center is blasting gas and dust outward, and that's what has cleared out the space around the star. The central star doesn't show up well in Herschel's infrared image, but you can see it easily in this submillimeter-wavelength view from the European Southern Observatory's APEX telescope in Chile.

The shock wave from the central star compresses the material on the bubble's edge so much that still more stars are being squeezed into existence. In the Herschel image, you can see a particularly bright spot on the right edge of the bubble. That's an embryonic star that appears destined to turn into one of the brightest lights in our ga

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