Gould Belt Gallery – Perseus


NGC 1333 in Perseus – Credit Travis Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage/H. Schweiker/WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

NGC 1333 is a large hydgrogen cloud or “reflection nebula” located at a distance of about 300 parsecs (978 light years) in the constellation Perseus. It is also a kind of cosmic factory that churns out stars. Two clusters containing hundreds of newly ignited “protostars” are associated with this huge sooty cloud, which is about 300,000 years old. These young objects have not yet reached the main sequence phase of their evolution. Meanwhile, star formation continues in the densest regions of the cloud.

False-color image of IC 348 in Perseus, photographed in infrared wavelengths
by the Spitzer Space Telescope – Image credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lucas Cieza

IC 348 is an embedded star cluster in the constellation Perseus. It contains about 400 young stars that are still associated with their native hydrogen cloud. The cluster is situated at the northeastern corner of a large molecular cloud complex, 320 parsecs (1040 light years) away from our Solar System. The age of IC 348 is estimated at 3 to 5 million years, and its diameter is about 2.5 parsecs (8 light years), equivalent to the distance between our Sun and Sirius, the nearest intrinsically bright star.

At the center of IC 348 is a bright young B-type star surrounded by other young stars. At the periphery, star formation continues along a dark gaseous filament, corresponding to the bottom edge of the image shown on this page. This active region is sometimes designated as the IC 348 Southwest Molecular Ridge. Observations with the Spitzer Space Telescope confirm that the stars of IC 348 are less numerous and less densely clustered than the members of the well-known Orion Nebula.

A recent analysis of Spitzer data by Thayne Currie suggests that rocky planet formation is in progress around stars of various spectral types in the central regions of IC 348. The signature of such activity is warm circumstellar dust, which has been detected at infrared wavelengths.

Currie T. (in press 2009) The evolutionary state of anemic circumstellar disks in IC 348 and the primordial-to-debris disk transition. Abstract.
Lada CJ, Muench AA, Luhman KL, Allen L, Hartmann L, Megeath T, Myers P, Fazio G, Wood K, Muzerolle J, Rieke G, Siegler N, Young E. (2006) Spitzer observations of IC 348: The disk population at 2–3 million years. Astronomical Journal, 131: 1574–1607.
Muench AA, Lada CJ, Luhman KL, Muzerolle J, Young E. (2007) A Spitzer Census of the IC 348 Nebula. Astronomical Journal, 134: 411-444.