A newly-released image taken by the now decommissioned Herschel Space Observatory displays the complex and chaotic structure of the Vulpecula OB1 star formation region. The tumultuous scene, revealed thanks to the infrared capabilities of the Herschel telescope, was captured as part of the Hi-GAL project, which was responsible for imaging the entirety of the galactic plane in five distinct infrared wavelengths.
On a clear night, the galactic plane is clearly visible as a pale band stretching across the sky. The plane contains the majority of the mass in our galaxy, containing vast quantities of stars and choking clouds of interstellar dust and gas. Hi-GAL was instrumental in highlighting a filamentary structure in the star forming material present in the galactic plane, and this same structure can be observed as red and orange tendrils in the new release.
The short-lived stars at the heart of Vulpecia OB1, which are among the most massive in our galaxy are classified as OB stellar bodies. Each of the leviathans are dozens of times the mass of our Sun. The OB stars present in the Herschel image are grouped together into a roughly 150 strong star cluster known as NGC 6823 (imaged above), which can be observed in visible light images of the region.
Vulpecia OB1's stars are known to throw out massive amounts of ultraviolet radiation. This radiation has the effect of ionizing and compressing the surrounding clouds, which in time will collapse upon themselves, giving birth to the next generation of stars.
It is believed that the abundance of material exposed in the Herschel image is sufficient to sustain the star creation process for millions of years to come.