A star is born

An international team of astronomers has collaborated to create the most detailed image ever produced of the Rosette Nebula — a giant stellar nursery.

The nebula (pictured below) is a vast cloud of dust and gas spanning 100 light years and about 4,500 light years away, in the direction of the Monoceros constellation.

Inside the nebula is a cluster of bright, massive, young stars whose strong stellar winds and radiation have cleared a hole in the nebula’s centre. Ultraviolet light from these stars excites the surrounding nebula, causing it to glow.

Because the nebula is so big, most large telescopes are unable to capture the entire star system in one exposure, and therefore the highest resolution images have been limited to only small areas of it.

This new image was assembled using data from the INT Photometric H-Alpha Survey (IPHAS) of the Northern Galactic Plane and covers four separate areas of sky, equivalent to about 20 times the size of the full moon.

IPHAS is a survey of the entire plane at three different wavelengths, using the Wide Field Camera on the 2.5m Isaac Newton Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands.

When complete, it will cover an area of 1,800 square degrees. IPHAS will soon be followed by VPHAS+, a complementary Southern Galactic Plane survey using the ESO 2.5m VLT Survey Telescope (VST) in Chile.

The presence of a very young infrared star still in its final stages of formation proves that star formation is still active around the nebula. It is believed that the young massive stars in the nebula will one day blow all the gas and dust away. The centre of the Rosette Nebula is just below the Galactic Plane, the glow from which can be seen at the top left corner of this image.

The IPHAS team is in the process of imaging the entire plane of our galaxy, and members of the survey team had to combine almost 200 individual pictures to create this one image.

Click here to view more images from the survey