The Little Fox and the Giant Stars: New stars are the lifeblood of our galaxy, a…


The Little Fox and the Giant Stars: New stars are the lifeblood of our galaxy, and there is enough material revealed by this Herschel infrared image to build stars for millions of years to come. Situated 8,000 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula — Latin for “little fox” — the region in the image is known as Vulpecula OB1. It is a “stellar association” in which a batch of truly giant “OB” stars is being born. O and B stars are the largest stars that can form.
The giant stars at the heart of Vulpecula OB1 are some of the biggest in the galaxy. Containing dozens of times the mass of the sun, they have short lives, astronomically speaking, because they burn their fuel so quickly. At an estimated age of 2 million years, they are already well through their lifespans. When their fuel runs out, they will collapse and explode as supernovas. The shock this will send through the surrounding cloud will trigger the birth of even more stars, and the cycle will begin again.

The image was obtained as part of Herschel’s Hi-GAL key-project. This used the infrared space observatory’s instruments to image the entire galactic plane in five different infrared wavelengths. These wavelengths reveal cold material, most of it between -220º C and -260º C. None of it can be seen in ordinary optical wavelengths, but this infrared view shows astronomers a surprising amount of structure in the cloud’s interior.

Image Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/Hi-GAL Project
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