This colorful nebula hides a young, cold star inside it.


The Chameleon Infrared Nebula lies within the dark cloud Chamaeleon I, considered to be one of the closest star-forming regions in the Milky Way. This colored nebula is actually formed by fluxes of gas from a young star inside it, creating an appearance that resembles a butterfly’s wing. The object was recently recorded by the Gemini South telescope located in Chile.

The Chameleon Infrared Nebula is considered a reflection nebula, meaning it is an interstellar dust cloud that reflects light from nearby stars. The name comes from the glow of the gas flow in some infrared light lengths, but on the other hand, the nebula can also be seen in visible light, used to produce the image you see below:

If you look at the center of the image, you will find the “engine” behind the nebula. In the center of it, there is a star less massive than the Sun, hidden by a vertical band. This cool young star is releasing gas jets at very high speed, which have made their way through the interstellar cloud that gave rise to the star. Then, the infrared and visible light emitted by the star escapes through this “tunnel”, being dispersed there.

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The result is this beautiful nebula that we saw. Another interesting object appears further to the right, in red. There is a Herbig-Haro (HH) object there, formed when some of the gaseous flow illuminates after colliding with slower moving gases in the nebula. Other HHs were found along the axis of the star’s flux, scattered to the right and left of the image.

The dark band at the center of the nebula is a circumstellar disk, formed by a reserve of gas and dust orbiting the star. Ultimately, these disks are associated with young stars and provide the materials needed to form new planets. Here, it is more like a track than a record itself because we see it from the side, from our perspective of Earth.

If you want to access a zoomable version of the image and explore all the details of it, just visit the NOIR Lab website.

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