The yearly ritual of spring cleaning clears a house of dust as well as dust "bunnies," those pesky dust balls that frolic under beds and behind furniture. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed similar dense knots of dust and gas in our Milky Way Galaxy. This cosmic dust, however, is not a nuisance. It is a concentration of elements that are responsible for the formation of stars in our galaxy and throughout the universe.
These opaque, dark knots of gas and dust are called "Bok globules," and they are absorbing light in the center of the nearby emission nebula and star-forming region, NGC 281. The globules are named after astronomer Bart Bok, who proposed their existence in the 1940's.
Bok hypothesized that giant molecular clouds, on the order of hundreds of light-years in size, can become perturbed and form small pockets where the dust and gas are highly concentrated. These small pockets become gravitationally bound and accumulate dust and gas from the surrounding area. If they can capture enough mass, they have the potential of creating stars in their cores; however, not all Bok globules will form stars. Some will dissipate before they can collapse to form stars. That may be what's happening to the globules seen here in NGC 281.
Object Name: Bok globules in NGC 281
Image Type: Astronomical
Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgment: P. McCullough (STScI)
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