Astronomers have spotted a beautiful blue ribbon in space that will one day ignite into a cluster of baby stars.
An average of about seven new stars are born in our galaxy every year. Astronomers try to track down hot spots for new stars by searching for clouds of dust in gas in the coldest parts of the Milky Way. The European Space Agency's Herschel space observatory is giving us rare glimpses inside these super-cold star nurseries.
The blue ribbon in this new image shows the coldest part of the cloud. It's about minus 259 degrees Celsius and holds about 800 times the mass of the sun. Soon all that mass will crunch together and sprout new stars.
Cold temperatures are critical for star formation because they make the clouds of gas and dust move slow enough to succumb to gravity. Gravity crushes the clouds together and new stars ignite. These filaments are spread all over our galaxy.
"We detected a wealth of huge filaments, with lengths ranging from a few to a hundred light-years, revealing what seems to be the 'skeleton' of our galaxy," astronomer Sergio Molinari said in a statement in May.
But astronomers are still trying to figure out exactly what happens inside a filament that triggers star formation. Studying images like this one is one way to find out.