This beautifully bright, light-year-long heap of gas and dust particles was caught by the Hubble telescope hurtling through space on its way to becoming a star some 4,500-odd light years away. And this little cosmic caterpillar-that-could is all the more incredible when you know what it's fighting against.
Located in what's called the Cygnus OB2 association, the pummeling streak of celestial goodness (named IRAS 20324+4057—catchy) is still very much in the process of collection the debris and gas around so that, one day, it can grow up to be a big, strong star—a star potentially 10 times the size of our own sun, at that. Unfortunately for our fetal friend, the other residents of Cygnus OB2 include 65 radiation-blasting, dust-corroding O-type stars, the hottest and brightest stars known to man, in addition to 500 smaller, though also highly luminous B-type stars. These bright stars send out massive amounts of radiation that erodes protostars like the one above and sculpt it into that long, lovely shape.
So once good ol' IRAS 20324+4057 actually does finish forming, there's a decent chance we'll have a light-weight star on our hands. As of now, though, this particular flaming space monster is still very young and could go either way. We believe in you, little buddy. [NASA via Phys.org]