Where stars are born

Some 300 young stars shine through the dust in this infrared portrait of the main cloud of a nearby star-forming region called Rho Ophiuchi. (When viewed in visible light, the stars remain hidden in the dust.) In this false-color rendition, red indicates stars only a few hundred thousand years old, so young they still reside within the cocoons of dust and gas from which they grew.

L. Allen/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; JPL-Caltech/NASA

Nested inside those cocoons are disks of material from which planets may coalesce. Blue stars are only slightly older but have shed their cocoons. The stars concentrate within the cloud’s densest, coldest, and darkest patches; they heat adjacent dust, depicted in white. Diffuse pink indicates carbon-rich dust. NASA released the image, taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope, on Feb. 11.

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