Image Credit: Rolf Olsen

This stunning, colorful scene isn’t a painting, but the chaotic scene of stellar birth, dubbed IC 4603. Located just 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Ophiuchus, the nebula is one of the closest star forming regions to Earth.

Provided they have a nice variety of interstellar materials, areas like this spawn numerous smaller regions of interest. Most notably, this area contains a large concentration of interstellar dust. It is known to pool around the outermost atmospheres of older, more evolved stars that are nearing the end of their lifespan. Once they finally reach the end of the line, the carbon-rich dust starts to disperse throughout the interstellar medium, ultimately providing the perfect cocoon for nurturing new stars.

Once the stars flicker on for the first time, their light is almost hidden from view entirely, except for the blue glow associated with reflection nebulae, which IC 4603 is the perfect example of. In addition to the hallmark dust, the nebula has another powerful source driving its appearance – a large and bright central star called SAO 184376. It, in turn, lurks near one of the brightest stars in our sky, Antares (some of the reddish regions come from Antares, while others signify the presence of young, T-tauri stars).

Whilst in and of itself, IC 4603 might not be a name many are familiar with, it is a small part of a much more famous region; the Rho Ophiuchi Complex


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