Take a space flight through a sparkling stellar nursery

To celebrate the 25th birthday of the Hubble telescope, check out this stunning visualisation of a flight through a nebula, the place where stars are born.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team

Let's face it: even if we could get into a spaceship and fly into a nebula -- assuming we have the wormhole or warp technology to get there, since the closest is 1,344 light-years away -- flying through it would be slow going. The clouds of gas and debris are usually multiple light-years in size, so even at the speed of light it would take years.

So a new video released by NASA, the ESA and the Hubble team isn't exactly a realistic experience, but it sure is stunning.

It's based on a spectacular new photo of nebula Gum 29, released to celebrate the space telescope's official 25th birthday on April 24, 2015.

Located some 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina is Gum 29, an emission nebula (one that emits its own light, rather than reflecting the light around it). Gum 29 is an active stellar nursery, where the hot gas and dust condenses into newborn stars.

At its heart, obscured by dust, is a cluster of thousands of very young stars -- revealed by the near-infrared capabilities of Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. The image blends this near-infrared data with visible-light data.

Zoomed in on Westerlund 2. NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team

The giant cluster, called Westerlund 2, is very dense, just 10 light-years across, and the stars inside are around 2 million years old. They're very large, very hot and very bright -- some of the most massive stars every found in the sky.

Around it, the cloud of gas is being carved away by the stars' stellar winds -- ultraviolet light and streams of charged particles, rushing from the young stars into the surrounding space. This creates the shapes in the hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born -- pillars a few light-years tall.

These stellar winds also cause shocks in the gas as they push hard against it; this, in turn, triggers a new wave of stellar birth -- the red specks in the image are forming stars surrounded by gas as they accrete it into themselves. Although they have not yet ignited the hydrogen in their cores, effectively "lighting", they are visible to Hubble's near-infrared sensors.