by Scott Sutherland - Geekquinox
Protostar IRAS 20324+4057, spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope, looks like a giant space monster.Astronomers scanning a section of space in the constellation Cygnus snapped this vibrant picture of what they say looks like a massive space caterpillar, but is really a distant star in the process of forming. This protostar, named IRAS 20324+4057, is in the yellow/white 'head' of the caterpillar. The 10 trillion kilometre-long blue/grey 'tail' of gas streaming off towards the left-hand side of the picture is being blown in that direction by the collective solar wind and radiation from hundreds of massive bright stars that are part of the Cygnus OB2 association (located off to the right). You can see a really nice video zoom in on the Hubble site (click here).
It's difficult to tell exactly what size will IRAS 20324+4057 reach when it's finally born. Depending on how much gas it can cling to (with the constant pressure from Cygnus OB2 robbing it of as much as possible), it could end up being a light-weight star, smaller than our Sun, or it could become a heavy-weight, up to 10 times that size. Given that the light from the protostar travelled around 4,500 light years to reach us, it may have already ignited, but it will be some time before we get to see that happen.
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Although the astronomers who photographed IRAS 20324+4057 conjure up the image of a giant space caterpillar, that wasn't my first thought when I saw it:
Given that this episode aired in 1967 and astronomers apparently didn't spot this protostar until 2006, this could be a case of life imitating art, if the 'life' hadn't come into existence thousands of years before the 'art' was ever thought up.