300 Baby Stars In Our Nearest Star-Factory

Newborn stars are surrounded with dust in the Rho Ophiuchi dark cloud, in this new image from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Only about 407 light years from Earth, Rho Oph is one of the closest star-forming regions to us. There are more than 300 young stellar objects within the central cloud, which contains the crucial molecular hydrogen needed to form new stars from cosmic gas. Click through for another Rho Oph image, plus a picture of the galaxy that ended the dark ages.

300 Baby Stars In Our Nearest Star-Factory

300 Baby Stars In Our Nearest Star-Factory

The gravity from this cluster of galaxies forms a natural "zoom lens" that lets astronomers view a galaxy that formed just 700 million years after the Big Bang. You can just about glimpse the galaxy A1689-zD1 on the right side of the picture, inside the box. It's one of the youngest and brightest galaxies we've ever seen, formed during the cosmic "dark ages." Researchers believe the dark ages, when stars and galaxies started to form, lasted from 400,000 years to a billion years after the Big Bang — and this new discovery may have been one of the galaxies that helped end that era. [Spitzer Space Telescope]