Newborn star makes a cosmic bank shot

By Phil Plait | July 3, 2012 10:21 am

Like human babies, newborn stars tend to blast out gas from both ends. Unlike infant people, when stars do it it’s because of things like angular momentum, magnetic fields, and radiation pressure.

Also unlike human babies, when stars blast out gas it’s incredibly beautiful. Like in the case of HH110, seen here using the Hubble Space Telescope:

[Click to encollimate — and you want to — or grab the huger 4000 x 3000 pixel version.]

Breathtaking, isn’t it? Ironically, given the analogy above.

Massive newborn stars are hot, bright, spin rapidly, and have strong magnetic fields. As matter flows away from the star, all of these combine to form two tornado-like structures, vast and violent, erupting away from the star’s poles. These two focused beams (astronomers call them "jets") can scream away from the star at hundreds of kilometers per second. As a class, we call them Herbig-Haro objects, or HH objects for short.

HH110 is a bit of an oddball since it only appears to have one beam of material instead of two. It’s also wider than most HH jets, and appears more turbulent, with lots of twisty structures and knots of material in it. And now we think we know why: it’s a bit of a fraud. It’s not its own HH object, but part of another!

Less than a light year away is a fainter HH object, called HH270. One of the jets from HH270 is pointed right at HH110, which seems like a pretty big coincidence. And it probably isn’t: the thinking now is that this HH270 jet is slamming into a dense cloud of material and getting deflected, and it’s this material splattering away that’s forming HH110! I’ve labeled the image above — taken using the Subaru telescope — to make this more clear (from the CASA website; there are images showing more of that region of space and it’s lousy with HH objects).

This idea makes a lot of sense, and explains the weird structure in HH110. Dense clouds of material are common near newborn stars — after all, stars form from gas clouds! — and it’s not too surprising that at some point a jet will slam in to one. You can even see the cloud in question in the picture; it’s the area which is black. The material there is so thick it’s blocking the light from stars behind it, so we see it because of what’s not there.

That’s pretty amazing. A light-years-long stream of gas beaming away from a star happens to hit a gas cloud, deflects in another direction, and the resulting chaotic mess gets bright enough to actually steal the limelight from the original event!

Sometimes, even by accident, the Universe makes beauty, and we can stand back in awe of it. Even better — we can figure out why. Science! I love this stuff.

Image credits: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage team (STScI/AURA); Subaru/Bo Reipurth

Related Posts:

Hubble celebrates 20 years in space with a jaw-dropper [MUST SEE image of an HH object!]
The gorgeous birth pangs of young stars
A warm anniversary for Spitzer
Spitzer sees star spew spurious spouts
C-beams off the shoulder of Orion

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (10)

  1. zpmorgan


    Thanks Phil

  2. Chris

    I haven’t gasped at the sight of anything for a while but this took me by surprise! Gorgeous…

  3. Andres Minas

    Just like what some fireworks do on air. Same physics…er, geometry, only on smaller scale.

  4. Shawn

    My God, its full of galaxies!

  5. Messier Tidy Upper

    Superluminous image with those background galaxies, the smoke like fluid-looking ripples & great write-up there too, cheers BA. :-)

    Is that a spiral galaxy or planetary nebula in the top left hand corner I wonder?

  6. Joseph G

    “And the number 270 takes it back, and shoots! Through the H II region, and a bank-shot off the Bok-board… Oooh, and it’s way out there. Let me tell you, Marv, this rookie Haro is a promising player, but these showboat shots just aren’t getting anywhere near that event horizon. ”
    “Nope, not even in the same parsec, Tom!”

  7. Nigel Depledge

    Also unlike human babies, when stars blast out gas it’s incredibly beautiful.

    But I’ll bet it’s not half as funny. ūüėČ

  8. Jonathan G.

    @ Shawn: The multitude o’ galaxies was the second thing that took my breath away too. Are they really distant ones, or is there some non-true colour thing going on here?

  9. @ ^ Jonathan G. : Really distant I’d say. Of course, that’s a relative term but, yeah, given they’re background galaxies visible on long exposure astrophotography here I think so. No idea exactly how far away but don’t think they’re members of our Local Group or even the Virgo supercluster.


    Dunno how many fellow South Aussies may be out there and still reading this thread, but in today‚Äôs newspaper ‚Äď The Advertiser 5th of July 2012, page 32, “world” section – they’ve actually featured this discovery with a two paragraph tiny item and a thumbnail photo of Herbig-Haro 110; the same one at the top here. It’s on my pinboard now. Neat. :-)

    (In the same newspaper, they’ve also got a good article on the discovery of the Higgs boson – & a piece on the US government denying that mermaids & zombies are real. The times we live in, eh?)

  10. Phrank

    What a gorgeous structure! I was wondering what sort of estimates we have about this. Its dimensions? Its density? Its makeup? Its temperature? The velocity of the particles within it?

    You know, just because I wasn’t already impressed enough. :)


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