"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean... Recently, we've managed to wade a little way out, and the water seems inviting." - Carl Sagan
Sunset in Mordor
Don’t be fooled by the title; the mysterious, almost mystical bright light emerging from these thick, ominous clouds is actually a telltale sign of forming stars.
Here, a very young star is being born in the guts of the dark cloud LDN 43 – a massive blob of gas, dust and ices, gathered 520 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Ophiuchus, The Serpent Bearer.
Stars are born from cosmic dust and gas, which float freely in space until gravity forces it to bind together. The newborn star, RNO 91, is hidden in this image, revealed only by light reflected onto the plumes of the dark cloud. It is what astronomers call a pre-main sequence star, meaning that it has not yet started burning hydrogen in its core.
The energy that allows RNO 91 to shine comes from gravitational contraction – the star is being compressed by its own weight. Once a critical mass is reached, hydrogen, its main component, will begin to fuse together, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process. This will mark the beginning of adulthood for the star.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: J. Schmidt