Massive star-forming region Sharpless 2-106

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Image credit: HST

Sharpless 2-106, Sh2-106 or S106 for short, lies nearly 2,000 light-years from us. The nebula measures several light-years in length. It appears in a relatively isolated region of the Milky Way galaxy. A massive, young star, IRS 4 (Infrared Source 4), is responsible for the furious activity we see in the nebula. Twin lobes of super-hot gas, glowing blue in this image, stretch outward from the central star. A ring of dust and gas orbiting the star acts like a belt, cinching the expanding nebula into an “hourglass” shape. Hubble’s sharp resolution reveals ripples and ridges in the gas as it interacts with the cooler interstellar medium. Dusky red veins surround the blue emission from the nebula. The faint light emanating from the central star reflects off of tiny dust particles. This illuminates the environment around the star, showing darker filaments of dust winding beneath the blue lobes. Detailed studies of the nebula have also uncovered several hundred brown dwarfs. At purely infrared wavelengths, more than 600 of these sub-stellar objects appear. These “failed” stars weigh less than a tenth of our Sun. Because of their low mass, they cannot produce sustained energy through nuclear fusion like our Sun does. They encompass the nebula in a small cluster.

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An alternative image from the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) is here and a press release from the Subaru telescope concerning the brown dwarf discoveries is here, with the 2006 paper from the Astronomical Journal. At left is the infrared imaging from Subaru. The least massive and faintest brown dwarfs observed are only a few times more massive than Jupiter. Examples are highlighted in a supplementary image.

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