May 2009 — Glowing stellar nurseries

Illustrating the power of submillimetrewavelength astronomy, this 870-micron Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) image reveals how an expanding bubble of ionised gas about 10 lightyears across is causing the surrounding material to collapse into the dense clumps that are the birthplaces of new stars. The region, called RCW120, is about 4200 light-years from Earth, towards the constellation of Scorpius. A hot, massive star in its centre is emitting huge amounts of ultraviolet radiation, which ionises the surrounding gas, stripping the electrons from hydrogen atoms and producing the characteristic red glow of so-called H-alpha emission. Submillimetre light (seen in blue) is the key to revealing some of the coldest material in the Universe, such as these dense clouds

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