In a sky filled with bright stars, this image appears to show a massive black hole in its centre.
But, rather than being a genuine black hle, the eerily dark ‘hole’ in this photograph is a cloud of matter – known to astronomers as a dark molecular cloud – which blocks all light from passing through it. In infrared images, though, it becomes transparent (below).
The interiors of molecular clouds are some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe.
The bizarre sight is formed due to a high concentration of dust and molecular gas absorbing practically all the visible light emitted from background stars.
Pictured is Barnard 68, which is one of the most notable molecular clouds and is towards the constellation Ophiuchus.
Astronomers say because no stars are visible, this indicates that Barnard 68 is relatively nearby.
But this is still about 500 light-years away and half a light-year across. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds like Barnard 68 form.
But scientists do know that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to form.
In fact, Barnard 68 itself has been found likely to collapse and form a new star system.
In infrared light, it is also possible to look right through the cloud.
2011 WAS THE NINTH WARMEST YEAR ON RECORD – NASA REVEALS
2011 was the ninth warmest year on record, NASA has announced.
The space agency recently released a video which shows global temperature changes since 1880.
And in a sign of how the planet is warming up, nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.
The average temperature for the world last year was 0.92 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the mid-20th century baseline period of 1951 to 1980.
According to The Huffington Post, James E. Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said, ‘We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting.
‘So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures. Even with the cooling effects of a strong La Niña influence and low solar activity for the past several years, 2011 was one of the 10 warmest years on record.’