In the context of space, the term ‘cloud’ can mean something rather different from the fluffy white collections of water in the sky or a way to store data or process information. Giant molecular clouds are vast cosmic objects, composed primarily of hydrogen molecules and helium atoms, where new stars and planets are born. These clouds can contain more mass than a million suns, and stretch across hundreds of light years!
The giant molecular cloud shown here is one of the closest to Earth at a distance of about 17,000 light years. Because of its relative proximity, this cloud provides astronomers with an excellent opportunity to study how stars are forming in our Milky Way galaxy.
This composite image shows the high-energy output from this stellar nursery, where X-rays from our Chandra observatory are colored blue. In about 20 hours of Chandra exposure time, over 600 young stars were detected as point-like X-ray sources, and diffuse X-ray emission from interstellar gas with a temperature of a million degrees or more was also observed. Infrared light observed with our Spitzer Space Telescope appears orange and yellow-green and shows cool gas and stars surrounded by disks of cool material.
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L. Townsley et al; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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