IC 4601 is a reflection nebula which is located about 420 light-years away in Scorpius. It is part of a larger interstellar cloud of dust and gas –where new stars are being born — known as the Horsehead Nebula (IC 4592). In fact IC 4601 lies near the horse’s ear.
These types of nebulae are called “reflection,” because they are reflecting the light of nearby stars. The characteristic blue hue of reflection nebulae is caused by the tendency of interstellar dust to more strongly scatter blue starlight.
IC 4601 is illuminated by the intense radiation of the stars present in its vicinity, among which the most brilliant star HD 147010, and the two stars of a binary system known as HD 147013, which are all blue giants.
The dust of IC 4601 contains the heavy elements that planets are made of, and plays a major role in the creation of new stars. There probably are baby stars wrapped in these blankets of dust.
Image Credit: Giovanni Benintende