STAR FORMING REGION RCW 49
Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/Caltech/JPL Spitzer Space Telescope. CLICK image for larger view and look below for information and links.
This vast cave-like nebula is known as RCW 49 and it’s a thick pocket of star forming gas and dust in the southern constellation of Centaurus roughly 13,700 light years from our own star system. The central cluster of bright blue stars is hard at work pushing away the very material that created them so they can get a look at the cosmos for themselves (metaphorically of course).
The image comes from the Spitzer Space Telescope and this object is suited perfectly for the infrared eyes that the telescope views the universe with. Cutting through the nebula, Spitzer can see about 2200 stars shrouded within its dusty structure. Of those, about 300 are newborn stars; many of those have protoplanetary disks around them which indicate new star systems are in the formation process. The central cluster, known as Westerlund 2 or W2 is about 30,000 solar masses and is estimated to be nearly 2 million years old and packed with some of the brightest, most massive stars in the galaxy.
NAME: RCW 49, GUM 29, Westerlund 2, W2.
WHAT IS IT?: Star forming region & diffuse nebula.
HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: 13,700 light years.
HOW BIG IS IT?: Approximately 350 light years in diameter and contains approximately 2200 stars within it. The image is 30.4’x30.4’ arcminutes on the night sky.
WHERE IS IT? (General): Southern constellation Centaurus.
WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 10h 23m 57.2s / DEC 57° 45′ 9.0″.
Spitzer Space Telescope page for this image: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/1168-ssc2004-08a1-Star-Formation-in-RCW-49
NASA APOD page for this image: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap040603.html
Westerlund 2 SIMBAD data page: http://simbad.u-strasbg.fr/simbad/sim-id?Ident=Westerlund+2
Chandra Space Telescope, Westerlund 2 page: http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2008/wd2/