European space telescope reveals newborn stars
The cloud, located 1,000 light years away in the constellation Aquila, the eagle, contains about 700 clumps of gas and dust in the process of becoming stars.
ESA astronomers say about 100 of these condensations are protostars, stars in the final stages of forming but not yet undergoing nuclear fusion.
The image shows an area of space 65 light years across. No previous infrared space telescope has been able to penetrate the dense clouds of dust that hide the stellar nursery from view.
The Herschel telescope contains more sensitive infrared instruments than any previous telescope, the ESA says.
The image was taken Oct. 24, combining data from two different instruments on Herschel. The two bright spots in the image are caused by newborn stars that make the hydrogen gas around them shine.
The stellar nursery picture is the first one released from the ESA's Online Showcase of Herschel Images, a library of the telescope's best images, due to go live Wednesday.
The Herschel Space Observatory was launched May 15 along with the Planck space telescope.
The mirror the Herschel relies on to draw and focus light is the largest ever launched into space, with a diameter of 3.5 metres, almost 1½ times as large as the mirror on the Hubble space telescope.
The James Webb infrared space telescope, a joint project of NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency scheduled to go into space in 2012, will have a 6.5-metre mirror.