Located in the constellation of Scorpius, the Cat’s Paw Nebula resembles a faint, luminous paw-print on the sky. Deep images reveal that the nebula is about a degree across in the sky. At a distance of about 5500 light-years away it is a truly vast structure spanning almost 100 light-years across. The sculpted gases of NGC 6334 are illuminated by the light of numerous powerful stars, some exceeding 10 solar masses. Many of these luminous hot stars are surprisingly not visible because they lie within the dusty plane of our galaxy. At infrared wavelengths the numerous hot stars are revealed and the nature of this object as a region of massive star formation becomes clear. In the past decade water masers, molecular outflows, and x-ray sources have provided direct evidence of clusters of protostars within NGC 6334. The nebula was discovered by John Herschel in 1837, and the brief and uninformative description in his Cape Observations catalog is a testament to its faintness. The ruddy hue of this complex is the result of the absorption of blue light by the ubiquitous dust clouds along our line of sight in the plane of the Milky Way. The red, intricate bubble in the lower right of the image is particularly striking and is most likely either a star expelling large amounts of matter at high speed as it nears the end of its life or the remnant of a recent supernova.
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