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Star formation is the fundamental cosmic process which makes galaxies visible, and regulates the evolution of normal matter in the Universe. New instruments and technologies are now enabling the exploration of fundamental cosmic processes. Scientists are beginning to understand the beauty and complexity of star and planet formation and their role in cosmic evolution. This fascinating book combines the latest astronomical images and data with descriptions of the exciting recent developments in the study of star and planet formation. The authors discuss isolated star birth in dark clouds, the formation of star clusters and nebulae, the 'ecology' of interstellar gas and dust, and the violent starbursts that may produce black holes. They relate these processes to the evolution of galaxies and the origin of life on Earth. Written using non-technical language, the book will appeal to readers with an interest in understanding the Universe and our cosmic origins.