One of the most beautiful and spectacular regions of the night sky is found in the constellation Orion.
Between the stars Alnitak, Saif and Rigel hovers a huge, thick cloud of interstellar dust and gas. This is the Orion Nebula, a nest of material in which baby stars are born and one of the most studied and photographed objects in the Milky Way.
burnt out 24 light yearsit is so close and large that it is visible to the naked eye.
Because of its relative proximity (about 1344 light-years from the sun), this spectacular cloud is an important laboratory for understanding star formation.
You just have to zoom in and look closely at the details.
This new Hubble image of the Orion Nebula looks like wisps of subtly tinted clouds peacefully doing their cloud thing against the velvety dark background of space… but at the center is a rare and wondrous cosmic interaction caused by the baby star IX Ori.
That interaction, called HH 505, is what’s known as a Herbig-Haro object. Its formation requires a very specific set of conditions.
First, you need a baby star. These form when a tight knot in a molecular cloud, such as Orion’s stellar nursery, collapses under its own mass and spins. As it spins, the material from the cloud around it washes out, allowing the baby star to grow.
As this material accumulates on the baby star, powerful plasma beams can be launched from the star’s poles. Some of the material swirling around the star is thought to be directed toward the poles along the star’s external magnetic field lines. These magnetic field lines act like a particle accelerator, so that when the material reaches the poles, it is launched at incredible speeds.
A Herbig-Haro object forms when these jets, traveling at incredibly high speeds, hit the surrounding gas hard and shock heat it so that it glows brightly. This creates what appears to be two glowing rods of light emanating from the baby star.
These structures are changing rapidly so astronomers can study them to understand how baby stars blow material from the cloud around them. This cuts off the gas and dust that feeds the growing stars and determines the size of the mature star.
Can’t this beautiful piece of sky get more beautiful?
The new image can be downloaded in wallpaper formats from the Hubble website.