Image Credit: ESO
RCW 38 is a young, embedded star cluster of just some 5 light-years across, located about 5,500 light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation of Vela (the Sails). It is an “embedded” cluster, in that the nascent cloud of dust and gas still envelops its stars.
The diffuse and dense cluster is composed of thousands of hot, very young stars formed less than a million years ago, and appears to be forming new stars even today, what makes it is one of the nearest star-forming regions with very young, hot stars. Chandra’s X-Ray Observatory detected the hot upper atmospheres of 190 of these stars. Many of the more massive, short-lived stars will explode as supernovae.
The powerful winds and large amount of radiation from young, massive stars bombard fledgling suns and planets, helped in their devastating task by high-energy X-rays produced by supernova explosions. In some cases, this energetic onslaught cooks away the matter that may eventually form new planetary systems.
Astronomers think that our own Solar System emerged from such a dramatic environment. They have determined that most stars, including the low mass, reddish ones, originate in these matter-rich locations. Accordingly, embedded clusters provide scientists with a living laboratory in which to explore the mechanisms of star and planetary formation.
This image was obtained with the Wide Field Imager instrument on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla, using data collected through four filters (B, V, R and H-alpha).