A composite near-infrared colour image from NTT/SofI. It covers a sky area of 5 x 5 arcmin2 and the red, green and blue colours correspond to the Ks- (wavelength 2.2 µm), H- (1.65 µm) and J-band (1.2 µm), respectively. North is up and East is to the left. The labels identify known radio sources. The main cluster is seen north-east of the region labelled "O3". The colour of a star in this image is mostly a measure of the amount of dust absorption towards this star. Hence, all blue stars in this image are located in front of the star-forming region.
This picture shows a three-colour composite of the central region of the star-forming region W49A, based on a radio emission map (wavelength 3.6 cm; here rendered as red) as well as two SofI images in the Ks- (green) and J-bands (blue). The red-only features in this image represent regions of ionized hydrogen so deeply embedded in the molecular cloud that they cannot be detected in the near-infrared, while blue sources are foreground stars. The radio continuum data were taken with the Very Large Array by Chris De Pree.
Peering into a giant molecular cloud in the Milky Way galaxy - known as W49 - astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have discovered a whole new population of very massive newborn stars. This research is being presented today at the International Astronomical Union’s 25th General Assembly held in Sydney, Australia, by ESO-scientist João Alves.
With the help of infrared images obtained during a period of excellent observing conditions with the ESO 3.5-m New Technology Telescope (NTT) at the La Silla Observatory (Chile), the astronomers looked deep into this molecular cloud and discovered four massive stellar clusters, with hot and energetic stars as massive as 120 solar masses. The exceedingly strong radiation from the stars in the largest of these clusters is "powering" a 20 light-year diameter region of mostly ionized hydrogen gas (a "giant HII region").
W49 is one of the most energetic regions of star formation in the Milky Way. With the present discovery, the true sources of the enormous energy have now been revealed for the first time, finally bringing to an end some decades of astronomical speculations and hypotheses.
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