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This vibrant NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of young stars flaring to life was released to celebrate Hubble's 25 years of exploring the heavens.
The sparkling centerpiece of this image is a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2. The cluster is normally difficult to observe, because it is surrounded by dust. However, Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 peered through the dust in near-infrared light, giving astronomers a clear view of the region.
The Westerlund 2 star cluster is only about 2 million years old and contains some of our galaxy's hottest, brightest, and most massive stars known. Some of the heftiest stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by releasing a flow of ultraviolet light and stellar winds (streams of charged particles).
Besides sculpting the gaseous terrain, the brilliant stars can also help create new generations of stars. When stellar winds hit dense walls of gas, they create shocks, which may be generating a new wave of star birth along the wall of the cavity.
The red dots scattered throughout the image are a rich population of newly forming stars that are still wrapped in their gas-and-dust cocoons. Hubble's near-infrared vision allows astronomers to identify them. The brilliant blue stars seen throughout the image are mostly foreground stars.
Westerlund 2 is named for Swedish astronomer Bengt Westerlund, who discovered the cluster in the 1960s.