Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2024 January 15
A cluster of stars is shown along with surrounding nebular gas a
and dust. Shown in infrared light in pink, the dust winds around the 
nebula center and itself appears composed of many finer filaments.
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.

Star Cluster IC 348 from Webb
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and K. Luhman (Penn State U.) and C. Alves de Oliveira (ESA)

Explanation: Sometimes, it's the stars that are the hardest to see that are the most interesting. IC 348 is a young star cluster that illuminates surrounding filamentary dust. The stringy and winding dust appears pink in this recently released infrared image from the Webb Space Telescope. In visible light, this dust reflects mostly blue light, giving the surrounding material the familiar blue hue of a reflection nebula. Besides bright stars, several cool objects have been located in IC 348, visible because they glow brighter in infrared light. These objects are hypothesized to be low mass brown dwarfs. Evidence for this includes the detection of an unidentified atmospheric chemical, likely a hydrocarbon, seen previously in the atmosphere of Saturn. These objects appear to have masses slightly greater than known planets, only a few times greater than Jupiter. Together, these indicate that this young star cluster contains something noteworthy -- young planet-mass brown dwarfs that float free, not orbiting any other star.

Tomorrow's picture: almost orion

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