A Holiday Angel Among the Stars

The star-forming region Sharpless 2-106 bears a certain resemblance, particularly during this time of year

A composite image of S106, from the Hubble Space Telescope and Japan's Subaru Telescope (NASA/ESA/the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/NAOJ))

About 2,000 light years away, in the direction of the constellation Cygnus (The Swan), in a rather isolated part of the Milky Way, lies a newly formed star known IRS 4. This star, about 15 times the mass of our Sun, is still so young that it hasn’t yet calmed down; it’s ejecting material at high speed, giving this image its wings. That hydrogen gas, colored blue here, is heated by the star to temperatures of 10,000 degrees Celsius, making them glow. The cloudy, red parts in the image are tiny particles of dust illuminated by the star.

This area of the universe is known as star-forming region S106 and it’s pretty small (well, by universe standards), at only two light years from the edge of one “wing” to the other. The nebula is also home to more than 600 known brown dwarfs, “failed” stars that, because of their size, less than a tenth the mass of our Sun, cannot undergo the nuclear fusion that powers glowing stars.

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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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