Image: SUBARU TELESCOPE (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan)

Approximately 2,000 light years from Earth at the center of a star-forming region known as S106 lies a massive star called Infrared Source 4 (IR4). And a new infrared image from the Subaru Telescope reveals that much more goes on there than meets the eye. Indeed, earlier visible-light shots of S106 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope failed to show the upper half of the hour glass-shaped nebula in its full glory. The new picture, however, is so sharp that it even picks up delicate ripples in the gases emanating out from IR4. In addition, an analysis of the image by Yumiko Oasa has uncovered faint, young brown dwarfs and other objects nearby.

Ultraviolet radiation from IR4 excites the surrounding hydrogen gas, which then relaxes, creating the blue glow in the inner part of the nebula. As dust particles reflect the light from IR4, they produce the red-colored reflection nebula. Bathed in this aura are hundreds of young brown dwarfs. The lightest and the faintest objects discovered are only several times greater in mass than Jupiter. If they orbited a star, these cosmic specks would be considered planets; as is, they are referred to simply as "floating small objects." How they form is as yet unclear.