When you think of a nebula forming stars, it’s hard to imagine how large it is. Most nebulae form hundreds or even thousands of stars before being blown away by the young stellar winds. Pockets of a nebula collapse into dense regions that will eventually become stars with surrounding planetary systems. There are places in the galaxy we can look and actually see it happening.
Pictured above, the beautiful ‘running chicken’ nebula, as strangely named as it is, is in the later stages of it’s star forming life. Many bright young stars have formed and their intense radiation is now ionizing the gas and blowing away the dust of the nebula, producing gorgeous features and picturesque infrared glowing.
However, the dark spots you can see are still hanging on to the possibility of becoming stars some day. These are called Thackeray’s globules, and have a bit more resistance to the intense radiation surrounding them. Right now it’s a race against time. Can the cloud collapse to produce a star before the radiation erodes it’s mass? If so, maybe the potential star will become a giant planet with no home star, or a brown dwarf, producing heat from release of gravitational potential energy instead of the more powerful fusion.
When globules like these form earlier, they are often obscured by the dust and gas that make up a molecular cloud, but now that the newly formed stars are blowing it all away, we can watch them develop. It will still take a few million years before we know who wins the battle: gravity or radiation. So for now, we can simply enjoy the beauty of the process.