A star-forming miracle in the cosmos

Image credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/DOE/NSF/AURA/ TA Rektor (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSFs NOIRLab)Image processing: D. de Martin & M. Zamani (NSFs NOIRLab)

A Brief Introduction to Lupus 3

Imagine a huge, star-forming cloud deep in the cosmos known as Lupus 3.

This celestial body was captured beautifully by the Dark Energy Camera, a remarkable device owned by the US Department of Energy.

This camera has an impressive 570 megapixels and is based at NSF NOIRLab’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

The central region of Lupus 3 is stunning, as two newborn stars emerge from their ‘cocoons’ of dust and gas.

These star children illuminate a reflection nebula called Bernes 149. The different regions in this object make it a perfect object for studying star formation.

When forces collide: The formation of reflection nebulae

We experience extraordinary sights when energy and matter collide.

This is true not only on Earth—where phenomena like radiant auroras and intense lightning strikes—but also in the vast expanses of space.

Here, energy emanating from glowing young stars and protostars illuminates vast clouds of interstellar dust and gas. This creates breathtaking structures, so-called reflection nebulae.

Lupus 3, about 500 light-years from Earth, is a prime example of this. It lies in the direction of the constellation Lupus, which aptly means “the wolf”. This interstellar cloud is a hotbed of star formation.

An intergalactic nursery: home of the little stars

Stealing the looks in this expansive nebula are two blue stars, HR 5999 and HR 6000.

These celestial bodies illuminate nearby gas and dust, creating the bright blue Bernes 149 reflection nebula. Lupus 3, a dark nebula spreading against a background of stars, produced these stars.

But this cloud isn’t just an inconspicuous, pitch-black speck. It hosts a multitude of baby stars known as T Tauri stars. Eventually, these young stars will use the materials from Lupus 3 to mature into full-fledged stars.

The older siblings: HR 5999 and HR 6000

At about 1 million years old, HR 5999 and HR 6000 are the oldest stars in the Lupus 3 region. These stars are pre-main sequence stars.

This means that while they are bright, they are not yet powered by nuclear fusion like our Sun. Instead, gravity propels these stars, compressing and heating their inner matter.

They blew away nearby gas and dust, illuminating the remains and creating the Bernes 149 reflection nebula.

Originally, astronomers hoped that discovering the true nature of this nebula would help them find regions of new or active star formation.

This hypothesis proved correct, as Lupus 3 provided many insights into the early stages of star formation.

Lupus 3: A part of something bigger

Lupus 3 is part of a larger family. It is one of at least nine clouds within the giant lupus cloud complex. It covers an area of ​​sky about 24 lunar diameters as seen from Earth.

Thanks to its huge field of view of 2.2 degrees, the Dark Energy Camera can capture huge objects like Lupus 3 in a single image.

The combination of the DECam’s wide-field capabilities and the light-gathering capabilities of the 4-meter-wide mirror of the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter telescope results in sharp, high-resolution images.

Provided by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.

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