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Herculean Womb in Outerspace
This image of the Cone Nebula, NGC 2264, was taken with the Hubble Telescopes new Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).
Astronomers believe that the Herculean pillar of cold gas and dust acts as an incubator for developing stars. Pillars, such as NGC 2264, are commonly found in large, turbulent regions of star birth.
The young hot-shot stars emit damaging radiation that slowly erodes their stellar nursery. Ultraviolet light heats the conical-shaped cloud which then releases gas into space, sort-of a cosmic burping. The red halo seen around the pillar is caused by ultraviolet radiation meeting released gas.
In time, most of the Cone Nebula will fade away. The densest regions will remain, allowing stars and planets to form.
Image courtesy NASA.