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Star blasted stellar nursery in ‘Orion’s sword’ observed in detail

Infrared image of Orion's photo-dissociation region captured by the Keck 2 telescope.

Infrared image of Orion’s photo-dissociation region captured by the Keck 2 telescope.(Image credit: Habart et al./W. M. Keck Observatory)

An in depth image of a stellar nursery blasted by ultraviolet light from massive young stars shows how intense radiation heats and shapes the fuel for star formation.

This ultraviolet irradiated zone, referred to as a photodissociation region (PDR), is situated within the Orion Bar section of the Orion Nebula bought at the biggest market of ‘Orion’s Sword’ hanging from Orion’s Belt.

Though this nebula a dense cloud of cold gas that’s home to intense star formation appears to be an individual star when viewed with the naked eye, its true nature as a glowing stellar nursery becomes clear when viewing it with a telescope.

Related: Hubble Space Telescope paints stellar outflows in new portrait of the Orion Nebula

This image reveals the young, massive stars of the zone are bombarding the nebula and its own cold gas the fuel for star formation with ultraviolet radiation heating and shaping it.

Since it may be the closest massive region of intense star birth to Earth, astronomers think about the study of the Orion Nebula being an important tool for building a knowledge of the circumstances that surrounded the birth of our solar system.

Viewing the PDR since it is heated by starlight may help understand better the result of huge amounts of ultraviolet light blasted out by young stars on the physics and chemistry of these local environment in addition to on the form and structure of the gas clouds where these were born.

“These regions are essential since they allow us to comprehend how young stars influence the gas and dust cloud they’re born in, particularly sites where stars like sunlight, form,” Paris-Saclay University astrophysicist Emilie Habart said in a statement. (opens in new tab) “Observing photodissociation regions is similar to looking at our past.”

The study in to the PDR of Orion’s Belt will become a roadmap for further investigation utilizing the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) as what’s referred to as the PDRs4All program.

A Hubble Space Telescope mosaic of the Orion Bar, and a nfrared heat map of the Orion Bar obtained with Keck Observatory's NIRC2 instrument.

A Hubble Space Telescope mosaic of the Orion Bar (left), and an infrared heat map of the Orion Bar obtained with Keck Observatory’s NIRC2 instrument (right). (Image credit: NASA/STScI/Rice Univ./C.ODell et al./Habart et al./W. M. Keck Observatory)

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To create this new highly detailed image, PDRs4All team astronomers probed this region utilizing the second-generation Near-Infrared Camera (NIRC2) in conjunction with the Keck II telescope’s adaptive optics system. Both instruments can be found at the W. M. Keck Observatory on the Maunakea volcano on the island of Hawaii.

In the image, you’ll be able to identify the various sub-structures that comprise Orion’s Bar in unprecedented detail. Included in these are ridges, globules, and filaments of gas, along with disks around young stars which are formed as starlight shapes the nebula’s gas and dust which are called ‘proplyds.’

“Nothing you’ve seen prior have we had the opportunity to see at a little scale how interstellar matter structures be determined by their environments, particularly how planetary systems can form in environments strongly irradiated by massive stars,” Habart said. “This might allow us to raised understand the heritage of the interstellar medium in planetary systems, namely our origins.”

The team will undoubtedly be particularly thinking about observing in the PDR images where gas changes from the hot ionized state (one stripped of electrons) to warm atomic gas, and again to the cold molecular gas with the capacity of collapsing to create stars.

For Keck Observatory astronomer Carlos Alvarez, probably the most exciting components of this research is seeing Keck play a simple role in the JWST era of astronomy.

“It had been thrilling being the initial, as well as my colleagues of the ‘PDRs4All’ James Webb Space Telescope team, to start to see the sharpest images of the Orion Bar ever used the near-infrared,” he said in a statement. (opens in new tab) “[The] JWST can dive deeper in to the Orion Bar along with other PDRs, and Keck will undoubtedly be instrumental in validating JWST’s early science results.Together, both telescopes can offer unique insight in to the characteristics of the gas and chemical composition of PDRs, which can only help us understand the type of the fascinating star-blasted regions.”

The team’s research has been accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics and may currently be read as a preprint (opens in new tab) on the arXiv paper repository.

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RobertLeais a science journalist in the U.K. whose articles have already been published in Physics World, New Scientist, Astronomy Magazine, ABOUT Space, Newsweek and ZME Science. He also writes about science communication for Elsevier and the European Journal of Physics. Rob holds a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy from the U.K.s Open University. Follow him on Twitter @sciencef1rst.

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