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
– 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
The Sun is literally a middle-aged star; approaching the midpoint between its birth over 4 billion years ago and its eventual death about 6 billion years from now. But the Sun is one of hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and we see them at all different ages, from their spastic births to their (in some cases) hyperspastic deaths. In many cases the way a star dies is foretold by how its born, so the study of star birth is a rich and fascinating field.
It’s also surpassingly beautiful, since stars are formed from the swirling chaos of thick clouds of gas and dust, lit up by the various newborns embedded within. You’ll find no finer example of this than the large nebula called Sharpless 2-239, a sprawling stellar nursery about 500 light years away in the direction of Taurus, and you may find no finer picture of it than this one taken by astronomer Adam Block using the 0.8 meter telescope at the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter in Arizona:
[Click to ennebulenate, and yes, you want to.]
Isn’t that breathtaking? This image shows a portion of a much larger complex which currently has over a dozen stars forming inside it. Several of the stars you see here are quite young, only a few million years old. Since these are low mass stars like the Sun, and will merrily fuse hydrogen into helium for billions of years, this is like seeing a human baby when it’s less than a month old.
And, like babies will, these stars eject material from both ends: called bipolar outflow, twin beams of material (typically called "jets") are screaming out of these newborns at several hundred kilometers per second in opposite directions. These jets slam into the dense surrounding material, compressing it, heating it up, and causing it to glow. The structure you see fanning out to the lower left is from one of these jets, the one headed more or less toward us. The one moving in the other direction is mostly hidden from our view by the thick dust in the region.
But there’s much much more going on here…
I know I’ve been posting a lot of astropr0n lately, but there’s just been so much cool stuff the past few days (and there’s more to come)! The European Space Agency just threw their hat into the ring with this crazy cool image of a young star blowing its stack:
[Click it to ennebulanate, or grab yourself some megasized 2100 x 2100 pixel action.]
I love this image! It shows the havoc caused by young stars as they spew out material at speed upwards of a million kilometers per hour. What you’re seeing is actually a small part of a star-forming region surrounding the star R Corona Australis, a nearby 550 light years away. It’s a densely packed cloud of thick dust and gas, completely hiding the stars inside and behind it. It’s not terribly big, only a couple of light years across — compare that to the Orion Nebula, which is 20 light years across (and that’s only the visible portion; it’s part of a dark cloud that’s much larger). Or the Tarantula nebula, which I posted about yesterday, which is a thousand light years across!
Even though it’s small, it’s the birthplace of many stars. Two such stars reveal their presence here; not by their light, but by blowing out long streamers of matter called jets. Read More
I was out of town at a wedding this weekend, so I missed blogging about the spectacular image release for the Hubble Space Telescope’s 20th anniversary (here’s the US site). And yikes, it’s simply mind-smackingly mind smacking. Behold:
Ye gods. Click to get access to massively embiggened versions.
This is a stunning close-up of a section of the vast Carina Nebula, a sprawling and complex Escher-like region of gas and dust about 7500 light years away. It’s the scene of chaotic star birth and death, slammed and reslammed by winds from stars being born and others busy blowing up.