Figure 2a: SOFIA/FORCAST mid-infrared image of a region including the Quintuplet Cluster (QC), a group of young stars near the left margin of the frame, located about 35 parsecs (100 light years) from the galaxy's nucleus. The compact bright objects rendered white and blue in this image are dust cloud "cocoons" heated from within by the highest-luminosity stars in the cluster to temperatures that make them prominent at mid-infrared wavelengths. Other features in this image are interstellar clouds of gas and dust. The large rounded oblong feature below the QC is an expanding cloud of debris produced by violent ejections of material from a massive star nearing the end of its life.
Figure 2b: HST/NICMOS image of the QC region matching the SOFIA/FORCAST field of view in Figure 2a. The QC itself is at the left of the frame. Most of the features in the SOFIA mid-infrared image are not seen in the HST image due to their low temperatures and intervening interstellar dust.
Figure 2a: NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI/FORCAST Team/Hankins et al. 2013; Figure 2b: NASA/HST/STScI/AURA