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Hubble catches cosmic 'butterfly'

A true-color composite image of the Large Magellanic region N159

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Papillon nebula
The papillon nebula   


June 14, 1999
Web posted at: 2:00 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT)

(CNN) -- NASA has released dramatic images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of a turbulent cauldron of starbirth taking place 170,000 light-years away in our satellite galaxy, known as the Large Magellanic Cloud.

In one of the images, ridges, arcs and filaments are apparent in the vast nebula, called N159, which is over 150 light-years across.

The formations are the result of torrential stellar winds from hot, newborn, massive stars within the nebula, astronomers with Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute said.

The second image, a detail from within the cloud, shows a rare type of compact "blob" resolved for the first time to be a butterfly-shaped or "papillon" (French for "butterfly"). The papillon is buried in the center of the maelstrom of glowing gases and dark dust.

A possible explanation for its bipolar shape is the outflow of gas from massive stars (over 10 times the mass of our sun) hidden in the central absorption zone, astronomers said.

Such stars are so hot that their radiation pressure halts the infall of gas and directs it away from the stars in two opposite directions.

The Hubble observation of the papillon nebula is part of a search for young, massive stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, NASA said. Rare are the cases where massive stars can be seen so early after their birth.

The true-color image was taken with the Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.

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Space Telescope Science Institute
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