Details of Westerlund 2, Hubble's 25th Anniversary Image
A glittering tapestry of young stars flares to life in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope observation. These detailed close-ups are sections of a stunning image that is being released in celebration of Hubble's 25 years of exploring the universe since its launch on April 24, 1990.
[Top Left] The sparkling centerpiece of Hubble's silver anniversary tribute is Westerlund 2, a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. Hubble's near-infrared imaging camera pierces through the dusty veil enshrouding the stellar nursery, giving astronomers a clear view of the dense concentration of stars in the central cluster. The 2-million-year-old giant star cluster measures about 6 to 13 light-years across and contains some of our galaxy's hottest, brightest, most massive stars.
[Top Right] The cluster is surrounded by the star-forming region, Gum 29. The heaviest cluster stars are unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet radiation and hurricane-force winds streaming with charged particles, etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud from where the cluster formed. The nebula reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges, valleys, and reddish-brown filaments of dense gas and dust. The brightest stars in the image are Milky Way foreground stars not associated with Westerlund 2.
[Bottom Left] The pillars in the star-forming region surrounding Westerlund 2, composed of dense gas, are a few light-years tall and point to the central cluster. They are thought to be incubators for new stars. Besides sculpting the gaseous terrain, intense radiation from the most brilliant of the cluster stars is creating a successive generation of baby stars. The bluish haze is an indicator of oxygen gas in the nebula.
[Bottom Right] The red dots scattered throughout the landscape around Westerlund 2 are a rich population of newly forming stars still wrapped in their gas-and-dust cocoons. These tiny, faint stars are between 1 million and 2 million years old and have not yet ignited the hydrogen in their cores. Hubble's near-infrared vision allows astronomers to identify these fledgling stars.