Image Credit: ESO
NGC 2467 (sometimes referred as the “Skull and Crossbones”) is an emission nebula with an age of a few million years at most, located some 13,000 – 17,000 light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation of Puppis (the Stern). It is moving away from us at 55.75 per second.
It is an extremely active stellar nursery, where new stars are born continuously from large clouds of dust and gas. This star forming (HII) region, looking like a cosmic ghost, contains the open star clusters Haffner 18 (center) and Haffner 19 (inside the smaller pink region — the lower eye of the ghost), as well as vast areas of ionized gas.
The image displays a striking array of features that illustrate multiple phases of star birth. Huge clouds of gas and dust are sprinkled with bright blue, hot young stars. The bright star at the center of the largest pink region on the bottom of the image is HD 64315, a massive young star that is helping shaping the structure of the whole nebular region. Toward the center, deep dark lanes of dust hide parts of the nebula that surely are forming new stars.
Haffner 18 contains about 50 stars, among which several short lived, massive ones. The massive star still surrounded by a small, dense shell of hydrogen, is called FM3060a. The shell is about 2.5 light-years wide and expands at a speed of 20 km/s. It must have been created some 40,000 years ago.
A close-up view of Haffner 18 shows three different stages of star formation: In the center a group of mature stars that have already dispersed their birth nebulae, represents the completed product or immediate past of the star formation process. Located at the bottom left of this cluster, a very young star, still surrounded by its birth cocoon of gas, provides insight into the very present of star birth. Finally, in the dust clouds towards the right corner of the cluster, new stars are being born.
This image of NGC 2467 is based on 49 images in six different filters obtained in December 2003 with the Wide-Field Imager camera at the 2.2m MPG/ESO telescope, located at La Silla, in Chile. North is right and East is to the top.