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Shhhh! Don’t Disturb the Baby Stars

An infrared image of a small portion of the Monkey Head Nebula (also known as NGC 2174 and Sharpless Sh2-252) captured by the Hubble telescope, released on March 17, 2014.
NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) An infrared image of a small portion of the Monkey Head Nebula (also known as NGC 2174 and Sharpless Sh2-252) captured by the Hubble telescope, released on March 17, 2014. The nebula is a star-forming region that hosts dusky dust clouds silhouetted against glowing gas.

The Hubble Space Telescope has given us a gift on the occasion of its own 24th birthday. Like nearly all of the riches Hubble has showered down on us over nearly a quarter of a century, the newest one is a picture—this time of the wonderfully named Monkey Head Nebula, 6,400 light years from Earth. The region of the nebula that’s shown is a stellar nursery, a place new stars churn into existence. As they release energy, the infant suns blow off cosmic dust (at the right of the image); the ultraviolet light they generate sculpts the remaining dust into pillars. Space, as Hubble has revealed again and again, is a place of sublime violence—and sublime beauty too.

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