A space butterfly stretches its wings

This image, taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, shows a nebula known officially as Westerhout 40, or W40, but pretty much everyone in the astronomy business calls it the Space Butterfly.

The cosmic insect lies about 1400 light-years from the sun. NASA’s imaging clearly shows its two massive “wings”, which comprise titanic clouds of gas and dust.

The material that forms the wings was ejected from a dense cluster of stars that lies near the centre of the formation. Over time, some of the floating material clumps together, leading to the formation of new stars.

In effect, the Space Butterfly is a giant stellar nursery.

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