The 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, built by the US Department of Energy, was used at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile by NSF’s NOIRLab to capture images of the vast, star-forming interstellar cloud Lupus 3.
The central region of the cloud, shown in the image, reveals a pair of infant stars bursting from their natal cocoons of dust and gas to illuminate the reflection nebula known as Bernes 149.
This object is a top target for studies on star formation because of its contrasting areas.
On Earth, the collision of energy and matter may produce amazing sights like blazing lightning storms and auroras that gleam. The same is true in space, where light from blazing young stars and protostars floods the region in which they are located, illuminating massive interstellar clouds of dust and gas to produce magnificent reflection nebulae.
One stunning example of these clashing forces is the star-forming interstellar cloud Lupus 3. This star-forming nebula is located about 500 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Lupus.
The nebula’s two blue stars, HR 5999 and HR 6000, illuminate neighboring gas and dust to form the brilliant blue reflection nebula Bernes 149. The dark nebula Lupus 3, which covers the background of stars like a blanket, gave rise to these stars. However, this cloud is more than just a cosmic blob of coal blackness. T Tauri stars, which will eventually use the material of Lupus 3 to evolve into fully grown stars, are among the fleet of young stars that call this stellar system home.
At the relatively young age of about 1 million years, both stars are the oldest of the stars in the Lupus 3 region. Despite their brightness, these stars are pre-main-sequence stars, which means they do not yet undergo nuclear fusion, unlike our Sun.
The oldest stars in the Lupus 3 zone are HR 5999 and HR 6000, only about 1 million years old. Despite their brilliance, these stars are pre-main-sequence stars, which means they do not yet undergo nuclear fusion, unlike our Sun. Gravity, which compresses and warms the interior substance, drives them instead. The Bernes 149 reflection nebula was formed when these sibling stars blew away neighboring gas and dust, revealing the leftovers.
When astronomers first discovered the true nature of this nebula, it was expected that it and similar regions would be useful in finding areas of recent or active star formation. This hunch was proven correct, and Lupus 3 has provided many insights into the early stages of star formation.