The Soul Nebula IC 1848
I went at it again the night of October 25, 2011 and got a shot of the very dim Soul Nebula (a.k.a. the Embryo Nebula, IC 1848, or W5). It is an open cluster of stars surrounded by a cloud of dust and gas over 150 light-years across and located about 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia, near the Heart Nebula. The star cluster formed inside the 150-light-year-wide cloud of gas and dust. Even as stellar winds push open the cavity, they compress material near the center of the hollow, spurring new stars to form.
The cluster of stars, IC 1848, formed about a million years ago from the material of the nebula. Winds and ultraviolet light from these young stars are excavating a cavity in the cloud. Parts of the cloud that are more dense than their surroundings are being eroded more slowly and form giant towers, or pillars of dust and gas, which all point toward the central star cluster. It’s reminiscent of the landscape of out West somewhere. Material at the interior edges of the cavity is also being compressed by the winds and radiation from the star cluster. This triggers lots of brand new star formation in those areas. The pillars inside the Soul Nebula are each about 10 light-years tall and you look hard you can see stars forming at their tips.