From: European Southern Observatory
Published April 7, 2017 09:44 AM

ALMA Captures Dramatic Stellar Fireworks

1350 light years away, in the constellation of Orion (the Hunter), lies a dense and active star formation factory called the Orion Molecular Cloud 1 (OMC-1), part of the same complex as the famous Orion Nebula. Stars are born when a cloud of gas hundreds of times more massive than our Sun begins to collapse under its own gravity. In the densest regions, protostars ignite and begin to drift about randomly. Over time, some stars begin to fall toward a common centre of gravity, which is usually dominated by a particularly large protostar — and if the stars have a close encounter before they can escape their stellar nursery, violent interactions can occur.

About 100 000 years ago, several protostars started to form deep within the OMC-1. Gravity began to pull them together with ever-increasing speed, until 500 years ago two of them finally clashed. Astronomers are not sure whether they merely grazed each other or collided head-on, but either way it triggered a powerful eruption that launched other nearby protostars and hundreds of colossal streamers of gas and dust out into interstellar space at over 150 kilometres per second. This cataclysmic interaction released as much energy as our Sun emits in 10 million years.

Fast forward 500 years, and a team of astronomers led by John Bally (University of Colorado, USA) has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to peer into the heart of this cloud. There they found the flung-out debris from the explosive birth of this clump of massive stars, looking like a cosmic version of fireworks with giant streamers rocketing off in all directions.

Read more at European Southern Observatory

Image: Stellar explosions are most often associated with supernovae, the spectacular deaths of stars. But new ALMA observations of the Orion Nebula complex provide insights into explosions at the other end of the stellar life cycle, star birth. Astronomers captured these dramatic images of the remains of a 500-year-old explosion as they explored the firework-like debris from the birth of a group of massive stars, demonstrating that star formation can be a violent and explosive process too. The colors in the ALMA data represent the relative Doppler shifting of the millimeter-wavelength light emitted by carbon monoxide gas. The blue color in the ALMA data represents gas approaching at the highest speeds; the red color is from gas moving toward us more slowly. The background image includes optical and near-infrared imaging from both the Gemini South and ESO Very Large Telescope. The famous Trapezium Cluster of hot young stars appears towards the bottom of this image. The ALMA data do not cover the full image shown here. (Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Bally/H. Drass et al.)

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