Image Credit: European Space Observatory/J. Emerson/VISTA

This is a fabulous image taken in infrared of an extraordinary starcape filled with a mixture of young stars, hot gas and dark clouds of interstellar dust -- all contained within Monoceros R2, a region that can be found in the constellation of Monoceros (the unicorn) about 2,700 light-years from Earth.

This image captures the heart of the stellar nursery, where stars are obstructed by thick, dark clouds that are rich in molecular grains of dust. Due to said clouds, the newborn stars remain hidden from our line of sight, but when viewed in infrared, the stars in Monoceros R2 appear to come to life (with the exception of some of the more massive stars in the core of the cluster).

Some of the light from the buried stars can be seen in visible light. They create the reflection nebula. In this classification of stellar nebulae, light from the embedded stars reflect from the interstellar gas and dust clouds.

Download a larger image here.

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