Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2004 June 3
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Cosmic Construction Zone RCW 49
Credit: E. Churchwell (Univ. Wisconsin), JPL, Caltech, NASA

Explanation: Stars and planets appear to be under construction in dusty nebula RCW 49. This Spitzer Space Telescope false-color infrared view of the nearby stellar nursery shows that known, hot stars are well on their way to clearing out the nebula's central regions. But it also uncovers more than 300 newborn stars, seen here strewn throughout the cosmic dust clouds and filaments. The infrared data indicate the likely presence of protoplanetary discs around some of the infant suns, among the faintest and farthest potential planet-forming discs ever observed. Such exciting results give further support to the idea that planet-forming discs are a natural part of a star's evolution. A mere 14,000 light-years away toward the constellation Centaurus, the industrious RCW 49 is about 350 light-years across.

Tomorrow's picture: high noon

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