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‘Space Butterfly’ Is Home to Hundreds of Baby Stars

'Space Butterfly' Is Home to Hundreds of Baby Stars

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What
looks like a red butterfly in space is in reality a nursery for hundreds of
baby stars, revealed in this infrared image from our Spitzer Space
Telescope. Officially named Westerhout 40 (W40), the butterfly is a nebula — a
giant cloud of gas and dust in space where new stars may form. The butterfly’s
two “wings” are giant bubbles of hot, interstellar gas blowing from
the hottest, most massive stars in this region.

Besides
being beautiful, W40 exemplifies how the formation of stars results in the
destruction of the very clouds that helped create them. Inside giant clouds of
gas and dust in space, the force of gravity pulls material together into dense
clumps. Sometimes these clumps reach a critical density that allows stars to
form at their cores. Radiation and winds coming from the most massive stars in
those clouds — combined with the material spewed into space when those stars
eventually explode — sometimes form bubbles like those in W40. But these
processes also disperse the gas and dust, breaking up dense clumps and reducing
or halting new star formation.

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