Changing Planet

Stunning Snapshot Reveals Dazzling Star Factories

This mosaic of images from the 2.2-meter telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile shows two dramatic star formation regions in the southern Milky Way, located in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of the galaxy.
Courtesy of ESO/G. Beccari

Two giant star clusters tucked away in one of the neighboring arms of our Milky Way galaxy glow in full display in a dramatic new portrait. They also offer a fun opportunity for backyard astronomers.

Using the giant eye of the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers captured two dynamic star-forming regions in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. A minor limb of our galaxy, the spiral arm consists mostly of gas and dust. Recent research shows that it is surprisingly devoid of stellar activity, making these two star factories real standouts in our galactic neighborhood.

The star cluster on the left side, named NGC 3603, is located some 20,000 light-years from Earth. Its companion on the right, a colorful gas cloud known as NGC 3576, sits much closer to Earth at only 9,000 light-years distant.

NGC 3603 is real stellar jewel box filled with hundreds of young, massive stars, one of the richest open star clusters in the entire galaxy.

Originally, these stars formed behind a veil of gas and dust. However, as they matured, they cleared away much of this material and left behind the glowing clouds that we see today surrounding the hot, young stars.

Meanwhile, NGC 3576 brandishes the same horn-shaped clouds of gas. They were carved by strong stellar winds billowing out from the young stars cocooned within the colorful nebula.

Above the nebula, the two conspicuous black clouds called “Bok globules” are ripe for future star formation as well.

See for Yourself

Both of these deep-sky objects were first recorded by British astronomer John Herschel back in 1834, noted while he was visiting South Africa.
Today sky-watchers in the Southern Hemisphere can spot the very same objects with just a small telescope when looking toward the southwestern part of the late night sky. Scanning this entire part of the sky with binoculars will reveal that it is studded with countless cosmic diamonds and wispy, faint veils of nebulosity that signify it is rich with star-forming regions.
This sky illustration shows the location of the open cluster NGC 3603 as seen late night from the Southern Hemisphere when looking towards the southwest. Credit: SkySafari
This sky illustration shows the location of the open cluster NGC 3603 as seen late at night from the Southern Hemisphere when looking toward the southwest. Courtesy of SkySafari
Both NGC 3603 and NGC 3576 nestle within the southern constellation Carina, the Keel, which you will find just below and to the left of the bright constellation, Centaurus.
This chart shows the constellation of Carina (The Keel) and includes all the stars that can be seen with the unaided eye on a clear and dark night. This region of the sky includes some of the brightest star formation regions in the Milky Way. The location of the distant, but very bright and compact, open star cluster NGC 3603 is marked. This object is not spectacular in small telescopes, appearing as just a tight clump of stars surrounded by faint nebulosity.  Credit:ESO
This chart shows the constellation of Carina (the Keel) and includes all the stars that can be seen with the unaided eye on a clear, dark night. The location of the distant, but very bright and compact, open star cluster NGC 3603 is marked. Courtesy of ESO
While they may not appear on the same grand scale as seen in the professional photos when seen through a backyard telescope, they will appear as next-door neighbors, separated by about 30 arc minutes, or the width of the disk of the full moon. This means that both should handily fit within the same field of view when using a low-power eyepiece.
Happy hunting!
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Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

    The photo was very interesting about what’s going on in our galaxy. I noticed what appears to be 2 stars in the formation stage. After all we are made of star stuff from super & hyper novas.

  • John Logsdon

    Really enjoy all the info. I can’t do a lot anymore, but this makes life worthwhile, thank you!


    Thank you…it’s educational, interesting, plus it shows how beautiful our universe is

  • sachin tripathi

    I love the channel and given informations are so amazing I would like to thank the entire team of nat geographic

  • sachin tripathi

    I really like the given information n I love the channel too keep it up!!!

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