From The European Southern Observatory
This image is centered on a classical, dark globule, known as Barnard 68 (B68) after the American astronomer, Edward E. Barnard (1857 - 1923), who included it in a list of such objects, published in 1919. It appears as a compact, opaque and rather sharply defined object against a rich, background starfield. Even on this image that registers many faint stars in the area, not a single foreground star is observed. This is a clear sign that this globule must be relatively nearby.
Interstellar clouds consist of gas and dust, including many molecules, some of which contain carbon atoms (i.e. "organic"). For a long time considered to be "holes in the sky", molecular clouds are now known to be among the coolest objects in the Universe (the temperature is approx. 10 K, or -263 degree C). Moreover, and most importantly, they are nurseries of stars and planets. It still remains a mystery how a dark cloud like Barnard 68 at some moment begins to contract and subsequently transforms itself into hydrogen-burning stars. However, this small cloud seems to be in its very earliest phase of collapse. It has a diameter of only 7 light-months (approx. 0.2 pc) and it is located at a distance of about 500 light-years (160 pc) towards the southern constellation Ophiuchus (The Serpent-holder).
This three-color composite was reproduced from one blue (B), one green-yellow (V) and one near-infrared (I) exposure that were obtained with VLT ANTU and FORS1. The field measures 6.8 arcmin x 6.8 arcmin. North is up and East is to the left.
Based on press release with ESO PR Photo 20a/99
Catalog #: Photo 20a/99
Target Name: The "Black Cloud" Barnard 68a
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Last modified on Sunday, December 17, 2000