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Light, wind and fire
DR EMILY BALDWIN
ASTRONOMY NOW
Posted: 25 February 2010


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ESO's latest stellar portrait encapsulates the light, wind and heat given off by massive stars incubating within NGC 346, the brightest star-forming region in our neighbouring galaxy the Small Magellanic Cloud.

This latest image from ESO of star forming region NGC 346 was captured using the Wide Field Imager instrument at the MPG/ESO 2.2 metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. Image: ESO.

The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) is located 210,000 light years away towards the constellation Tucana, and the open cluster of stars that make up NGC 346 spans around 200 light years. NGC 346 is an emission nebula, that is, the gas within it has been heated up by its stellar inhabitants such that it emits its own light. The massive stars' powerful winds disperse the gas to create a wispy cobweb-like structures flowing out from the cluster's dense core.

Many of the cluster's stars are young in cosmic terms – just a few million years old. Their intense winds themselves trigger further star birth by compressing large amounts of matter. These clouds of star-forming ingredients collapse under their own gravity, eventually becoming dense and hot enough to ignite nuclear fusion and become fully fledged stars that also light up the residual debris of gas and dust as colourful beacons in the sky.

Wide field image of NGC 346 inside the Small Magellanic Cloud, based on data from the Digitized Sky Survey 2. Image: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgements: Davide De Martin.

As more stars form and subsequently blow out their matter they will scatter leftover dust and gas within the cluster, carving out even more ripples and changing the face of their host cluster over time.

Situated relatively close to our home Galaxy, the SMC provides an extragalactic laboratory for astronomers to study star birth and track how growing stars shape their cosmic environment.

The Planets
From tiny Mercury to distant Neptune and Pluto, The Planets profiles each of the Solar System's members in depth, featuring the latest imagery from space missions. The tallest mountains, the deepest canyons, the strongest winds, raging atmospheric storms, terrain studded with craters and vast worlds of ice are just some of the sights you'll see on this 100-page tour of the planets.
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Hubble Reborn
Hubble Reborn takes the reader on a journey through the Universe with spectacular full-colour pictures of galaxies, nebulae, planets and stars as seen through Hubble's eyes, along the way telling the dramatic story of the space telescope, including interviews with key scientists and astronauts.
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3D Universe
Witness the most awesome sights of the Universe as they were meant to be seen in this 100-page extravaganza of planets, galaxies and star-scapes, all in 3D!
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