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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 April, 2004, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Veil lifted on the birth of stars
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

Looking through clouds of gas and dust at the birth of stars

Nasa's Spitzer Space Telescope has seen a display of hot stars behind a dust cloud that hid one of the most violent regions of star birth in our galaxy.

Some of the stars are estimated to be 100,000 times brighter than our Sun.

"We've never seen anything like this before," says Dr William Reach of the California Institute of Technology.

"The massive stars are ripping the cloud of gas and dust around them to shreds," says Dr Anthony Marston of the European Space Agency.

Colour vision

The region of space called DR21 is located about 10,000 light-years away in the constellation of Cygnus.

The dust and gas is sufficiently thick that no visible light can escape for us to see.

Previous observations with radio telescopes had shown a powerful jet coming from a huge cloud.

And now, the infrared detector on the Spitzer Space Telescope has seen through the gas and dust to take a false-colour image that reveals the region in new detail.

Big four

Within DR21, a dense knot of massive stars can be seen surrounded by a wispy cloud of gas and dust. Red filaments containing complex molecules stretch across the cloud.

A green jet shoots past the bulge of stars and represents fast-moving hot gas being expelled from the region's biggest star.

Astronomers say the Spitzer image captures star formation in unprecedented detail and should allow an insight into the still incompletely explained process of star birth.

The Spitzer Space Telescope was launched in August 2003 and is the last of Nasa's great space observatories which include the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

In pictures: Telescope pierces space dust
18 Dec 03  |  Photo Gallery
Nasa launches Universe probe
26 Aug 03  |  Science/Nature

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