The Herschel Space Observatory has made a major finding - a hole in space. The space telescope, which was launched almost exactly a year ago by the European Space Agency, spotted a gaping hole in the clouds surrounding a batch of young stars. The dark spot, or hole in space, actually is a gap in a "nest" of gas and dust containing fledgling stars, according to NASA.

The hole is close to a triple star system called V38O Ori. NASA scientists said the hole appears to have been created when one of the three stars in the system launched a jet of radiation, creating a gap in the swirl of gas and dust that contains fledgling stars. They also theorise that jets and stellar radiation from other stars contributed to the gap.

"No one has ever seen a hole like this," said Tom Megeath of the University of Toledo. "It's as surprising as knowing you have worms tunneling under your lawn, but finding one morning that they have created a huge, yawning pit." Megeath is the principal investigator of the research and works in conjunction with NASA.

Herschel is helping scientists study the formation of stars, which are born hidden in dense clouds of dust and gas.

And NASA noted yesterday that while researchers have seen jets and winds of gas streaming from young stars in the past, it has been a mystery exactly how a star uses the jets to blow away its surroundings and emerge from its birth cloud. For the first time, Herschel may be seeing an unexpected step in this process.

When scientists first spotted the hole, they thought it was a particularly dark cloud until Herschel delivered an infrared image of it, allowing them to see that it actually is a hole in the gas and dust surrounding the young stars. NASA noted that the hole actually looks "truly empty."

Herschel, which carries the largest mirror ever launched into space, is designed to observe a mostly uncharted part of the electromagnetic spectrum to gain more information about the birth of stars and galaxies, along with dust clouds and planet-forming discs around stars. Herschel also will be looking for water, one of the key elements of life, in remote parts of the universe.

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