Prawn star astonomer at University of Herts

Prawn Nebula. Image taken by the European Southern Observatory in Chile (acknowledgement: Martin Pug

Prawn Nebula. Image taken by the European Southern Observatory in Chile (acknowledgement: Martin Pugh). - Credit: European Southern Observatory in

Prawn stars in outer space are being examined by astronomers led by a professor from St Albans.

A glowing jumble of clouds nicknamed “Prawn Nebula”, which contain clumps of hot new-born stars have been captured in a new image by a telescope in Chile.

St Albans’ Janet Drew, professor of astronomy at the University of Hertfordshire, is the principal investigator of a survey of the Prawn Nebula, which is located around 6,000 light years from Earth, and covers an area of sky equivalent to four times that of the full Moon.

But, despite its huge size it has often been overlooked by observers due to its faintness.

A nebula is a cloud of gas or dust in space which appears as either a bright or dark cloud depending on whether or not there are stars present to make it luminous.

Prof Drew explained the image of the Prawn Nebula was one of the largest images released. It is the first of many likely to come from a survey led by the university’s astronomers of the entire southern plane of the Milky Way.

She and fellow researchers are gathering and examining data on the clouds.

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With modern astronomy a collaborative science, researchers in the UK are working with colleagues in Australia and the United States.

Prof Drew said uncovering more of these rare objects would provide a springboard to better understanding of how stars evolve.

She explained: “The nebula is a region of highly excited gases which has been made to shine by a bunch of hot young stars.”

Images taken with the European Southern Observatory’s telescope in Chile have been enhanced to bring out the colour by Martin Pugh, a skilled amateur astronomer observing from Australia.