Bullets of Star Formation

Clumps of Supersonic Gas Point Back to Hot Young Stars



This image reveals exquisite details in the outskirts of the Orion Nebula. The large adaptive optics field-of-view (85 arcseconds across) demonstrates the system’s extreme resolution and uniform correction across the entire field. The three filters used for this composite color image include [Fe II], H2, and, K(short)-continuum (2.093 microns) for blue, orange, and white layers respectively. The natural seeing while these data were taken ranged from about 0.8 to 1.1 arcseconds, with AO corrected images ranging from 0.084 to 0.103 arcsecond. Each filter had a total integration (exposure) of 600 seconds. In this image, the blue spots are clouds of gaseous iron “bullets” being propelled at supersonic speeds from a region of massive star formation outside, and below, this image’s field-of-view. As these “bullets” pass through neutral hydrogen gas it heats up the hydrogen and produces the pillars that trace the passage of the iron clouds.
Principal Investigator(s): John Bally and Adam Ginsberg, University of Colorado and the GeMS/GSAOI commissioning team; Data processing/reduction: Rodrigo Carrasco, Gemini Observatory; Color image composite: Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage. Image Courtesy: Gemini Observatory/AURA
The universe is not a static place. Things change all the time. So, the more often you look at an object or process in the cosmos, the more information you’ll get about how it changes over time. Astronomers take advantage of this to get what you might call a “time varying” view of something like the Sun or a planet or a star-forming region (for example). The process gets very interesting when they use newer technology to study something that seems familiar, like the Orion Nebula.

The Gemini Observatory observed a region of the Orion Nebula in 2007 and imaged what are called “bullets”. These almost look like tunnels through the clouds of gas and dust that make up the nebula. They are actually strong winds blowing gas off of massive stars at incredibly high speeds. As these “wind bullets” speed out, they carve out these tubular wakes as much as a fifth of a light-year long.

Those original images were some of the best taken of this region at the time, and they showed dynamic action surrounding hot young stars in the nebula.

Now, the Gemini Observatory has studied these again, this time using an a technology called adaptive optics and laser guide stars to gain a sharp clear image of these bullets in the Orion Nebula. The laser guide stars are artificial stars that are made using a special laser that shoots into the sky and provides astronomers a guide to aim at. They read those stars and use what they see to “adapt” the telescope system to account for the atmospheric aberration between the telescope and the sky. The process provides very clear, almost Hubble-like images, but from the ground.

The new images show more detail and, if you look closely between the originals and the new ones, you can make out a little bit of dynamic motion in the clouds themselves.

Check out the new image here, and then go over to the Gemini page and look at a previous image of the bullets — you can see clear improvements that are giving astronomers a great new tool to check out the Orion Nebula better than ever before.



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