Resembling the hair in Botticelli's famous portrait of the birth of Venus, an image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured softly glowing filaments streaming from hot young stars in a nearby nebula.
The image, presented by the Hubble Heritage Project, was taken in 1996 by Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, designed and built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The image is available online at http://heritage.stsci.edu/2002/12/index.html or http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2002/12/image/a/.
On the top right of the image is a source of its artistic likeness, a network of nebulous filaments surrounding the Wolf-Rayet star. This type of rare star is characterized by an exceptionally vigorous "wind" of charged particles. The shock of the wind colliding with the surrounding gas causes the gas to glow.
The Wolf-Rayet star is part of N44C, a nebula of glowing hydrogen gas surrounding young stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Visible from the Southern Hemisphere, the Large Magellanic Cloud is a small companion galaxy to the Milky Way.
What makes N44C peculiar is the temperature of the star that illuminates it. The most massive stars -- those that are 10 to 50 times more massive than the Sun -- have maximum temperatures of 30,000 to 50,000 degrees Celsius (54,000 to 90,000 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature of this star is about 75,000 degrees Celsius (135,000 degrees Fahrenheit). This unusually high temperature may be due to a neutron star or black hole that occasionally produces X-rays but is now inactive.
N44C is part of a larger complex that includes young, hot, massive stars, nebulae, and a "superbubble" blown out by multiple supernova explosions. Part of the superbubble is seen in red at the very bottom left of the Hubble image.
The Space Telescope Science Institute is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., for NASA, under contract with the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency.