Also known as proplyds, or protoplanetary discs, these modest blobs surrounding baby stars are shedding light on the mechanism behind planet formation. Only the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, with its high resolution and sensitivity, can take such detailed pictures of circumstellar discs at optical wavelengths.
Looking like a graceful watercolour painting, the Orion Nebula is one of the most photogenic objects in space and one of the Hubble Space Telescope's favourite targets. As newborn stars emerge from the nebula's mixture of gas and dust, protoplanetary discs, also known as proplyds, form around them: the centre of the spinning disc heats up and becomes a new star, but remnants around the outskirts of the disc attract other bits of dust and clump together. Proplyds are thought to be young planetary systems in the making. In an ambitious survey of the familiar nebula using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), researchers have discovered 42 protoplanetary discs.
Visible to the naked eye, the Orion Nebula has been known since ancient times, but was first described in the early 17th century by the French astronomer Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc — who is given credit for discovering it. At 1500 light-years away, the nebula, also known as Messier 42, is the closest star-forming region to Earth with stars massive enough to heat up the surrounding gas, setting it ablaze with colour, and making the region stand out to stargazers.
Within the awe-inspiring, gaseous folds of Orion, researchers have identified two different types of discs around young and forming stars: those that lie close to the brightest star in the cluster (Theta 1 Orionis C) and those farther away from it. This bright star heats up the gas in nearby discs, causing them to shine brightly. Discs that are farther away do not receive enough energetic radiation from the star to heat up the gas and so they can only be detected as dark silhouettes against the background of the bright nebula, as the dust that surrounds these discs absorbs background visible light. By studying these silhouetted discs, astronomers are better able to characterize the properties of the dust grains that are thought to bind together and possibly form planets like our own.
The brighter discs are indicated by a glowing cusp in the excited material and facing the bright star, but which we see at a random orientation within the nebula, so some appear edge on, and others face on, for instance. Other interesting features enhance the look of these captivating objects, such as emerging jets of matter and shock waves. The dramatic shock waves are formed when the stellar wind from the nearby massive star collides with the gas in the nebula, sculpting boomerang shapes or arrows or even, in the case of 181-825, a space jellyfish!
It is relatively rare to see visible images of proplyds, but the high resolution and sensitivity of Hubble and the Orion Nebula’s proximity to Earth allow for precise views of these potential planetary systems.
This proplyd atlas is the first scientific outcome from the HST Treasury Program on the Orion Nebula. Treasury Programs are carried out to allow scientists to conduct comprehensive studies over longer periods since time on the in-demand Hubble Space Telescope is strictly allocated. High resolution imaging of protoplanetary discs is an example of a science discovery that has led to better technology and is one of the main science cases for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), one of the largest ground-based astronomy projects of the next decade. ALMA will observe the dust at longer wavelengths, in emission (instead of in absorption as we see it at optical wavelengths) with an angular resolution up to 10 times better than that of Hubble.
Notes for editors:
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.
Image credit: NASA, ESA and L. Ricci (ESO)
Colleen Sharkey | EurekAlert!
Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences