Young Stars in Their Baby Blanket of Dust: Rho Ophiuchi
Ssc2008 03b1

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

Observation • February 11th, 2008 • ssc2008-03b1


Newborn stars peek out from beneath their natal blanket of dust in this dynamic image of the Rho Ophiuchi dark cloud from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Called "Rho Oph" by astronomers, it's one of the closest star-forming regions to our own solar system. Located near the constellations Scorpius and Ophiuchus, the nebula is about 407 light years away from Earth.

Rho Oph is a complex made up of a large main cloud of molecular hydrogen, a key molecule allowing new stars to form from cold cosmic gas, with two long streamers trailing off in different directions. Recent studies using the latest X-ray and infrared observations reveal more than 300 young stellar objects within the large central cloud. Their median age is only 300,000 years, very young compared to some of the universe's oldest stars, which are more than 12 billion years old.

This false-color image of Rho Oph's main cloud, Lynds 1688, was created with data from Spitzer's infrared array camera, which has the highest spatial resolution of Spitzer's three imaging instruments. Blue represents 3.6 micron light, green is 4.5 micron light, orange is 5.8, and red is 8.0. The multiple wavelengths reveal different aspects of the dust surrounding and between the embedded stars, yielding information about the stars and their birthplace.

The colors in this image reflect the relative temperatures and evolutionary states of the various stars. The youngest stars are surrounded by dusty disks of gas from which they, and their potential planetary systems, are forming. These young disk systems show up as yellow-green tinted stars in this image. Some of these young stellar objects are surrounded by their own compact nebulae. More evolved stars, which have shed their natal material, are blue-white.

About the Object

Rho OphRho Ophiuchi
Nebula > Type > Star Formation
Star > Evolutionary Stage > Young Stellar Object
Nebula > Appearance > Dark > Molecular Cloud
407 Light Years

Color Mapping

Band Wavelength Telescope
Infrared 3.6 µm Spitzer IRAC
Infrared 4.5 µm Spitzer IRAC
Infrared 5.8 µm Spitzer IRAC
Infrared 8.0 µm Spitzer IRAC


Position (J2000)
RA =16h 27m 21.8s
Dec = -24° 22' 25.6"
Field of View
2.1 x 1.0 degrees
North is 351.5° left of vertical