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A dynamic portrait of
stellar birth

Posted: 12 February 2010

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A colourful new image from the Gemini North Telescope reveals the chaotic nature of stellar nursery Sharpless 2-106.

This colour composite image shows the nursery of a massive star (hidden within the cloud) obtained with four narrow-band optical filters available for Gemini users at both Gemini North and South. Image: Gemini Observatory/AURA.

The hourglass-shaped star forming region is located some 2,000 light years away towards the constellation Cygnus and spans two light years long and half a light year wide. Its central star, up to 15 times the mass of our own Sun, was spawned around 100,000 years ago and will eventually embark on the relatively short lifetime of a fully fledged massive star.

This newborn star is controlling the bipolar shape of the nebula, ejecting powerful winds that exceed 200 kilometres per second and carry material from deep within the star to sculpt the surrounding gas and dust. Probing the stellar nursery even deeper reveals that many other sub-stellar objects are also forming within the cloud, which may someday result in a cluster of 50 to 150 stars in this region.

Gemini optical (left) and Subaru near-infrared (right) images of Sharpless 2-106. Comparison of these images reveal the various features visible by studying regions of gas and dust in different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Images: Gemini Observatory/AURA; Subaru Telescope, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

The intricate detail of Sharpless 2-106 was revealed by new filters attached to the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS) that transmit very specific colours of visible light emitted by excited hydrogen (red), helium (violet), oxygen (green), and sulphur (blue) as the radiation from energetic young stars collides with the surrounding gas.