NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope captured a glowing stellar nursery within a dark globule that reveals the birth of new protostars, or embryonic stars, and young stars never before seen.
The Elephant's Trunk Nebula is an elongated dark globule within the emission nebula IC 1396 in the constellation of Cepheus. Within the globule, a half dozen newly discovered protostars are easily discernible as the bright red-tinted objects, mostly along the southern rim of the globule. These were previously undetected at visible wavelengths due to obscuration by the thick cloud ('globule body') and by dust surrounding the newly forming stars. The newborn stars form in the dense gas because of compression by the wind and radiation from a nearby massive star (located outside the field of view to the left). The winds from this unseen star are also responsible for producing the spectacular filamentary appearance of the globule itself, which resembles that of a flying dragon.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/W. Reach (SSC/Caltech)