Located about 4,000 light-years away from Earth (in the constellation of Cygnus), this is the beautiful Cocoon Nebula (also known as “IC 5146”) as you’ve never seen it before.
Resembling a flower that just bloomed in the spring, inside the cocoon lies a stellar nursery filled with a densely packed open cluster, containing thousands of newly hatched stars.
At the very center is a young, metal-poor, but massive, star that’s burning so brilliantly, it opened up a hole in existing clouds of interstellar gas and dust, revealing the heart of this stunning nebula.
Once the star burns through the remainder of the hydrogen forged at its core, the core will collapse in a fraction of a second. In the process, spewing large amounts of gas into space, leaving behind a dense neutron star, or a stellar-mass black hole that will feed on the materials ejected from the star’s outer envelope.
Similar to other stellar nurseries lurking throughout the galaxy, the Cocoon Nebula is a emission, reflection and an absorption nebula at the same time. Not only is it awe-inspiringly beautiful, bit it’s also pretty large, spanning a distance of 15 light-years across. This essentially means that it takes 15 YEARS for light to travel from one side of the nebula to the other.
See a larger image here.