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Tag Archives: star formation

From a press release of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), September 23, 2015:

A new image of the rose-colored star forming region Messier 17 was captured by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. It is one of the sharpest images showing the entire nebula and not only reveals its full size but also retains fine detail throughout the cosmic landscape of gas clouds, dust and newborn stars.

Credit: ESO

Credit: ESO

Although officially known as Messier 17, its nicknames include: the Omega Nebula, the Swan Nebula, the Checkmark Nebula, the Horseshoe Nebula and the Lobster Nebula. M17 is located about 5500 light-years from Earth near the plane of the Milky Way and in the constellation of Sagittarius. The object spans a big section of the sky — its gas and dust clouds measure about 15 light-years across. This material is fueling the birth of new stars and the wide field of view of the new picture reveals many stars in front of, in, or behind M17.

The nebula appears as a complex red structure with some graduation to pink. Its coloring is a signature of glowing hydrogen gas. The short-lived blue stars that recently formed in Messier 17 emit enough ultraviolet light to heat up surrounding gas to the extent that it begins to glow brightly. In the central region the colors are lighter, and some parts appear white. This white color is real — it arises as a result of mixing the light from the hottest gas with the starlight reflected by dust. Throughout this rosy glow, the nebula shows a web of darker regions of dust that obscure the light. This obscuring material is also glowing and — although these areas are dark in this visible-light image — they look bright when observed using infrared cameras.

Links: full ESO press release, including further images and movies of M17.


The Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on February 4, 2014, shows star birth in action: a bipolar particle beam is seen, forming what we call a Herbig-Haro object, named for astronomers George Herbig and Guillermo Haro (see Section 12.1b, pp. 314-316).

Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA – Processing: Judy Schmidt

The powerful jet likely contains electrons and protons moving hundreds of kilometers per second. The above image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in infrared light in order to better understand turbulent star forming regions known as Young Stellar Objects (YSOs). Frequently when a star forms, a disk of dust and gas circles the YSO causing a powerful central jets to appear. In this case, the energetic jets are creating, at each end, Herbig-Haro object 24 (HH 24), as they slam into the surrounding interstellar gas. The entire star forming region lies about 1,500 light years distant in the Orion B molecular cloud complex. Due to their rarity, jets like that forming HH 24 are estimated to last only a few thousand years.

Links: APOD, February 4, 2014.

Astronomers have used data from the Spitzer Space Telescope to measure the distances, and hence temperatures, of so-called “brown dwarfs” (see Section 9.5).

These brown dwarfs, the coldest known free-floating celestial bodies, were found to be warmer than previously thought, with surface temperatures ranging from about 250 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (125 to 175 degrees Celsius). By comparison, the Sun has a surface temperature of about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (around 6000 degrees Celsius).

To reach these surface temperatures after cooling for billions of years, these objects would have to have masses of only 5 to 20 times that of Jupiter. Unlike the Sun, the only source of energy for these coldest of brown dwarfs is from their gravitational contraction, which depends directly on their mass. The Sun is powered by the conversion of hydrogen to helium; these brown dwarfs are not hot enough for this type of “nuclear burning” to occur.


Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The findings help researchers understand how planets and stars form, but also present new puzzles to astronomers who study cool, planet-like atmospheres, as the observable properties don’t correlate with temperature in a straight-forward way. Ongoing studies of newly discovered brown dwarfs may shed some light (and heat) on these outstanding issues.

Read the JPL press release for more detail and additional images.

New observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile have given astronomers the best view yet of how vigorous star formation can blast gas out of a galaxy and starve future generations of stars of the fuel they need to form and grow. Dramatic new images show enormous outflows of molecular gas ejected by star-forming regions in the nearby Sculptor Galaxy. These new results help to explain the strange paucity of very massive galaxies in the Universe. The study was published in the journal Nature on 25 July 2013.

The Sculptor Galaxy, also known as NGC 253, is a spiral galaxy located in the southern constellation of Sculptor. Lying at a distance of around 11.5 million light-years from our Solar System it is one of our closer intergalactic neighbors, and one of the closest ‘starburst galaxies,’ those which produce at an exceptionally high rate. Using ALMA, astronomers have discovered billowing columns of cold, dense gas fleeing from the center of the galactic disc. These results may help to explain why astronomers have found surprisingly few high-mass galaxies throughout the cosmos.

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Erik Rosolowsky

See the full ESO press release here, including links to more images and movies.