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Space Caterpillar Imaged by NASA's Hubble Telescope

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Aug 30, 2013 02:12 PM EDT
Space Caterpillar
This image of IRAS 20324+4057 is a composite of Hubble Advanced Camera for Surveys data taken in green and infrared light in 2006, and ground-based hydrogen data from the Isaac Newton Telescope in 2003 (Photo : NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope caught another stellar image, this time of a cloud of gas and dust that resembles a caterpillar crawling through the starry sky some 4,500 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

The caterpillar shape is an entire light-year long, shaped by harsh winds from extremely bright stars.

"The culprits are 65 of the hottest, brightest known stars, classified as O-type stars, located 15 light-years away from the knot, towards the right edge of the image. These stars, along with 500 less bright, but still highly luminous B-type stars make up what is called the Cygnus OB2 association," NASA wrote in a statement.

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The conglomerate of stars is believed to have a mass more than 30,000 times that of the Sun.

As with all but the most noteworthy cosmic bodies, scientists have given the caterpillar-shaped knot an indigestible name, IRAS 20324+4057. NASA reports the caterpillar knot is a protostar in a very early evolutionary stage.

"It is still in the process of collecting material from an envelope of gas surrounding it. However, that envelope is being eroded by the radiation from Cygnus OB2. Protostars in this region should eventually become young stars with final masses about one to ten times that of our sun, but if the eroding radiation from the nearby bright stars destroys the gas envelope before the protostars finish collecting mass, their final masses may be reduced," NASA said.

The protostar is still bulking up its mass by collecting material along its outer edges, but it is still too soon for astronomers to determine whether the eventual star will be a "light-weight" or a "heavy weight" with respect to its mass.

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