Lupus 4  (Image Credit: The European Space Observatory [ESO])

Here, we see a star-forming region called Lupus 4. Only, by the looks of the nebula itself, it would appear as if very few stars are actually in the final stages of formation. There’s a reason for this. You see, the interstellar medium is pervaded by two primary, but simple things: gas and dust. When we see certain regions with pointed compositions, harboring an equal amount of gas and dust, it’s hard to appreciate just how powerful microscopic grains of dust are when present in astronomical quantities

Clearly, Lupus 4 has a nice mix of both, but its defining feature doesn’t center on the bright blue star in the upper-right, but the huge black clouds hanging over millions of tiny pinpoints of light. Because of its properties and composition, Lupus 4 is formally classified as a dark nebula — a name given due to the fact that these regions keep everything inside of them out of sight, hidden behind extremely thick walls of dust, but, the stars eventually do emerge.  In fact, in Lupus 4, a number of protostars are expected to progress into a full-blown stars in the immediate future. They, in turn, will help unravel bits and pieces of Lupus 4, until all that is unseen completely surfaces.

With that said, this particular star making facility is a bit different from its counterparts. Its “power source” comes from a loose cluster of young T-Tauri stars known as the Scorpius–Centaurus OB association. Instead of deriving energy from the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium, these stars operate by gravitationally contracting, which generates heat.

As for the number of stars we can eventually expect to find, per the ESO’s press release, “It is hard to say, as mass estimates for Lupus 4 vary. Two studies agree on a figure of around 250 times the mass of the Sun, though another, using a different method, arrives at a figure of around 1600 solar masses. Either way, the cloud contains ample material to give rise to plenty of bright new stars. Rather as earthly clouds make way for sunshine, so, too, shall this cosmic dark cloud eventually dissipate and give way to brilliant starlight.”

This newer image  was taken using the “Wide Field Imager’ on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. The whole lot can be found 400 light-years in the opposite direction of Earth, traveling into the Lupus constellation.

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