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Hubble reveals secrets of a celestial 'Blob'

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N 81, also known as 'The Blob'  

(CNN) -- The nebula N 81 earned its nickname of "The Blob" because few of its features can be discerned by ground-based telescopes. But the space-based Hubble telescope has afforded a closer look, revealing a stellar nursery at work within its cloudy confines.

N 81 resides within the Small Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy that is a satellite of our own Milky Way. The new images show young, brilliant stars cradled within a nebula, or glowing cloud of gas, cataloged as N 81, according to astronomers with the Space Telescope Science Institute.

These recently formed stars inside N 81 are losing material at a high rate, sending out strong stellar winds and shock waves and hollowing out a cocoon within the surrounding nebula, astronomers said.

The nebula's glow is the result of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the two most luminous stars, seen as a very close pair near the center of the Hubble image.

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Also visible is cooler surrounding material consisting of hydrogen molecules and dust. Normally this material is invisible, but some of it can be seen in silhouette against the nebular background as long dust lanes and a small, dark, elliptical-shaped knot, astronomers said.

The Small Magellanic Cloud, named after the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, lies 200,000 light-years away, and is visible only from the Earth's southern hemisphere.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency.



RELATED STORIES:
Young stars belch fiery gas in Hubble time-lapse movies
September 21, 2000
Nebulous 'Spirograph' astounds Hubble astronomers
September 11, 2000
Hubble watches cosmic 'butterfly' emerge
September 5, 2000
Hubble telescope shows mystery object in new light
September 1, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Space Telescope Science Institute
Hubble Heritage Project
NASA
European Space Agency


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