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This wide-field image, based on data from Digitized Sky Survey 2, shows the whole region around the cosmic factory NGC 3603, located about 20 000 light-years away. This region contains many star formation regions featuring huge clouds of glowing gas. NGC 3603 is a very bright star cluster and is famed for having the highest concentration of massive stars that have been discovered in our galaxy so far. At the center lies a Wolf–Rayet multiple star system, known as HD 97950. Wolf–Rayet stars are at an advanced stage of stellar evolution, and start off with around 20 times the mass of the Sun. But, despite this large mass, Wolf–Rayet stars shed a considerable amount of their matter due to intense stellar winds, which blast the star’s surface material off into space at several million kilometers per hour, a crash diet of cosmic proportions. NGC 3603 is in an area of very active star formation. Stars are born in dark and dusty regions of space, largely hidden from view. But as the very young stars gradually start to shine and clear away their surrounding cocoons of material they become visible and create glowing clouds in the surrounding material, known as HII regions. HII regions shine because of the interaction of ultraviolet radiation given off by the brilliant hot young stars with the hydrogen gas clouds. HII regions can measure several hundred light-years in diameter, and the one surrounding NGC 3603 has the distinction of being the most massive in our galaxy.
Image Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2
Image enhancement: Jean-Baptiste Faure