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Tuesday, June 15, 1999 Published at 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK


Hubble watches star birth

Stellar wind uncovers star nursery

Astronomers have caught a rare glimpse of the birth of a massive star.

Dense clouds of dust and gas normally hide stellar nurseries, making it difficult or impossible to see what's going on inside.

But now, for the first time, the Hubble Space Telescope has witnessed the birth of a star ten times the mass of the Sun. The star was revealed after its violent birth blew away the obscuring dust.

Buried in dust

The star lies at the centre of the tiny Papillon Nebula, which is buried in a giant dust field in our neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, 170,000 light years away.

[ image: Giant dust and gas field]
Giant dust and gas field
Fierce stellar winds from hot new-born stars sculpt ridges, arcs and filaments in the dust cloud, which is 150 light years across.

The massive new star at the centre of the Papillon Nebula is so hot and bright that the sheer pressure of light it emits has stopped the infall of gas onto its surface and blown it away in two opposite directions. This makes it easier for Hubble to see inside the nebula.

It is not yet clear how the mechanism works. It is thought the gas and dust is held around the star's equator, and then directed to escape along its rotation axis.

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