Using 14 years of images from the Hubble telescope, NASA scientists have revealed more information about the mysterious formation of new stars – including how the Sun was formed billions of years ago.
NASA scientists, led by astronomer Patrick Hartigan of Rice University in Houston, Texas, are excited to obtain extraordinary footage of jets of gas that shoot out from these stars at “supersonic” speeds during new star formation.
The images collected over the years have been combined into a movie that show where these jets are going and how they interact with other space elements.
In previous years, astronomers have only been able to look at pictures of the stars forming; providing little information about the process. The results of Hartigan’s work are revolutionary because scientists can now observe these jets from over a decade’s worth of images.
“For the first time we can actually observe how these jets interact with their surroundings by watching these time-lapse movies,” said Hartigan. “Those interactions tell us how young stars influence the environments out of which they form.”
Scientists are still trying to understand the role of these jets of gas, also known as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects after astronomers who observed them over 50 years ago.
What scientists do know is that when a star forms, it pulls in dust and gas due to gravity that spin around it. Eventually, some of this material will then shoot out from the star at high speeds as jets of gas.
In his particular study, Hartigan and his team looked at 5 different jets from three stars. These jets are approximately 10 times the size of our solar system and speed along at about 440,000 miles per hour.
The study revealed, among other findings, that jets contain “clumpy gas” moving at different speeds. NASA likens the characteristics of these clumps to cars in a traffic jam; when these clumps bump against each other, heat is produced and shows up as glowing blue material in the images.
“With movies like these, we can now compare observations of jets with those produced by computer simulations and laboratory experiments to see what aspects of the interactions we understand and what parts we don’t understand,” asserts Hartigan.
To view more of these fascinating images, Grand Rapids space enthusiasts can go here.
This study was published in the July 20 issue of Astrophysics Journal.