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Hubble spies soft rose in tough neighborhood

The Rose nebula is in a small satellite galaxy to the Milky Way.
The Rose nebula is in a small satellite galaxy to the Milky Way.  

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- In a cosmic neighborhood with fierce radiation and turbulent winds, an elegant nebula that looks uncannily like a rose shines in a newly released snapshot from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The nebula of gas and dust, illuminated by the fire of young stars in its interior, resides in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small companion galaxy near our own Milky Way.

The resolution capability of the Hubble in this true-color image has helped scientists peer into the depths of the Rose nebula, known as N11A.

"From calculations we knew that N11A was powered by newborn massive stars. But since it is very compact, ground-based telescopes were not able through the gas and dust that enshrouds the stars," said Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri of the Observatoire de Paris, who led a team of Hubble scientists that studied the nebula.

"The Hubble image for the first time reveals the star content," Heydari-Malayeri said. "N11A is powered by a cluster of stars, although one of them is much brighter than the others."

The infant stars stoke shock waves and swift stellar winds, pushing out a cavity in their interstellar nursery of gas and particles.

The strong stellar radiation makes the cosmic cocoon glow with a soft fluorescence, much like ionized gas in a neon light. In the case of N11A, the rosy results are stunning, inspiring even a scientist to poetic expression.

"There are many beautiful nebulae with various shapes, but this one seems quite particular since it looks like a mysterious lonely rose floating in a sea of background stars," Heydari-Malayeri said.

N11A is situated in the Southern Hemisphere constellation Dorado, or the Goldfish. It is eight light-years across and about 170,000 light-years away from Earth.

A joint operation of NASA and the European Space Agency, the Hubble Space Telescope took three raw images of N11A in May 2000.

The Hubble team, composed of researchers in France, Germany and the United States, unveiled the composite portrait on Thursday.

The group expects more revelations when they take another look with the improved Hubble, which space shuttle astronauts upgraded earlier this year.

The upcoming study promises to show the cosmic rose in a whole new light, and a whole new shade of red.

"We aim at observing N11A with the Hubble infrared camera in order to penetrate deeper into the gas and dust and to see whether there are other embedded stars," Heydari-Malayeri said.




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