Posts Tagged ‘Orion Nebula’

Purplish Manta

ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J.-E. Ovaldsen, and A. Hornstrup

A purplish manta ray shape glides through the misty nebulae of the Trapezium Cluster in this image from the European Southern Observatory.

Explore the amazing colors, stars and dust clouds of this star-forming nursery. What shapes and stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The Trapezium, or Orion Trapezium Cluster, is a tight open cluster of stars at the very heart of the Orion Nebula. The Trapezium is relatively young and formed out of the surrounding nebula. About 2,000 stars; some hiding in the dense dust, make up the loose grouping of stars. The five brightest stars are 15 to 30 times more massive than our Sun. Blazing ultraviolet light from these huge, bright stars light up most of the nebula. Hydrogen atoms, excited by the ultraviolet light, glow pink and purple in the image. Other elements such as helium, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen give other subtle shades of color in the gas.

Even though the Orion Nebula can be seen without a telescope as a hazy patch of light, no historical records seem to exist describing it. Galileo Galilei first sketched three of the stars of the Trapezium on February 4, 1617. But he missed the nebulosity surrounding them. Later in the 17th century, astronomers mapped a fourth star. As telescopes became better, more stars were discovered. Armed with a modest telescope, modern backyard telescopes can resolve six stars. But there is plenty more to explore within the great nebula.

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Rainbow Infrared

ESA Herschel

A rainbow stretches across the Orion Nebula in this image from the ESA’s Herschel and NASA’s Spitzer space telescopes.

Explore the infrared swirl of gas and dust. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note below. As you zoom across the image look for lumpy areas of gas and dust. These may be areas of new star formation. Also follow the filaments of dust across the image. The lumps are strung along these filaments leaving scientists to wonder at how new stars are being born inside the cloud.

M42, or the Orion Nebula, is one of the most well-known nebula in the sky. It is one of the few that are visible to the naked eye. It is the fuzzy patch of light sitting just below the belt of Orion. The nebula is spectacular in visible light but in infrared streams of gas and dust become visible. Dust blocks our view of the inside of the nebula but Herschel’s and Spitzer’s infrared sensors can show us warm gas deep within the cloud. Hot young stars are being born. Ultraviolet radiation from these stars cause the gas and dust to glow. A star forms when a dense cloud of gas and dust gather in one place. Eventually this cloud may collapse under its own gravity, swirling around a common center. Material spirals toward the center and collects in a giant ball. If conditions are right, this ball of gas and dust can start to glow on its own. When temperatures are hot enough in its core, nuclear fusion begins and the ball becomes a star. Some of the leftover material still spinning around the new sun may become planets, comets and asteroids.

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The fingerprint of a new star

Credit: NASA, ESA, and P. Hartigan (Rice University)

Energetic blasts of glowing gas are the fingerprints of a new star in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the high-speed jets of HH 34. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note below.

Herbig-Haro objects are short-lived phases of new star formation. They last about 100,000 years and were first described by astronomers George Herbig and Guillermo Haro in the 1950s. Stars form from cold collapsing cloud of hydrogen gas and dust. As more and more material gathers in this nebula, it grows warm and begins to spin. Gravity pulls more material in this spinning disk toward the center where it might reach temperatures that will fuse hydrogen atoms together. When this happens, a star is born.

But astronomers are still puzzled why new stars send jets ripping through their nebular birthplace. Scientists think that the disk material gradually spirals onto the star to be blasted outward along the star’s axis and focused by the star’s intense magnetic field. As astronomers watch jets expand over time, they see knots of fast-moving material collide with slow-moving blobs. When this happens shockwaves like the waves in front of a boat form. These bow shocks brighten as the gas is heated up. HH 34 shows many overlapping bow shocks.

HH 34 lies near the Orion Nebula about 1,350 light-years from Earth.

Newborn Stars and Scorpions

Credit: NASA, ESA, and P. Hartigan (Rice University)

This fiery star birth announcement resembles a scorpion in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the cloud of energetic glowing gas surrounding this young star known as HH 2. What stories or pictures do you see in this image? Leave a note below.

These short-lived and small events are just at the edge of Hubble’s vision so there’s not much to zoom on. There’s plenty of action going on in this small space. Jets of material are blasting away from the newborn star at high-speed. They last only about 100,000 years. Astronomers call them Herbig-Haro (HH) objects in honor of George Herbig and Guillermo Haro, who studied them in the 1950s.

Stars form from collapsing clouds of hydrogen gas. Gravity pulls the material together into a spinning mass. When enough gathers in one place, a star may form as hydrogen atoms begin to fuse giving off light and heat. Planets may arise from the leftover material in the disk surrounding the newborn star. Material in the disk may also spiral toward the star only to be spewed out along the narrow beams of the star’s powerful magnetic field. Astronomers have been watching these jets over the past 14 years and have created movies as the jets flow outward like water.

It remains a mystery why a star unleashes the jets or what role they play in star formation. Studying the jets provides a peek at how our Sun formed more than 4.5 billion years ago.

HH2 and other Herbig-Haro objects are found about 1,350 light-years from Earth in the Orion Nebula.

Star Storm

Credit: C.R. O’Dell (Rice University), and ESA/Hubble & NASA

A storm of starbirth brews inside the Orion Nebula in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the heart of the most famous star-making nebulae, M42. What stories or shapes do you see in this star cloud? Let your imagination roam and share a note below.

The Orion Nebula is visible in the northern hemisphere sky right now, riding high in the south just after sunset. You can find it just below the three stars that mark Orion’s Belt. It’s the fuzzy spot, the middle star in the sword of Orion. In binoculars, the nebula is obvious.

This image only covers the heart of the Orion Nebula. Stars here are being born constantly. Planetary systems like our solar system may be forming out of the gas and dust left over from a star’s birth. With searing wind and ultraviolet light, the new stars blast away material after they are born. The ultraviolet light from these newborns causes the surrounding nebula to glow.

Located about 1,500 light years away, the massive nebula is one of the closest regions of star formation from Earth. A starship cruising at the speed of light, or 6 trillion miles per year, would take more than 24 years to cross the Great Nebula. But the entire nebula is much larger including the Horsehead Nebula and the Flame Nebula.

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