For the past few months, Bob O’Dell has been mapping the winds blowing in the Orion Nebula, the closest stellar nursery similar to the one in which the sun was born.
New data from the Hubble Orion Heritage Program, a major observational effort by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2004 and 2005, have given the Vanderbilt astronomer the information he needs to measure the stellar winds with unprecedented detail, and he reported his early results on Jan. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington D.C.
"Determining how stellar winds interact with the ambient material in stellar nurseries like Orion is a critical factor in understanding the process of star creation," says O’Dell, distinguished research professor of astrophysics and an international authority on Orion.
Using these markers, the astronomer has mapped the outflow from two of the three regions of star formation in the nebula. Both of these regions, labeled BN-KL and Orion-South, are located behind the glowing region of the nebula where the light from the central stars ionizes the outer layers of the parent molecular cloud. The specific objects that are producing these winds in the two regions are not visible to optical telescopes but they stand out as hot spots in infrared images.
By tracking back the farthest shockwaves produced by these outflows, O’Dell has established that the winds blowing from BN-KL have been doing so for 900 to 1,100 years, while those from Orion-South have been going on for 200 to 1,500 years. These observations were made during 104 orbits of the Hubble and provide the most comprehensive picture ever obtained of the Orion Nebula. The data will be combined with other Hubble and ground-based telescope observations to create a widely available archive for research scientists interested in this region, in addition to acting as a base for a detailed study that should provide new insights into the conditions required for creating stars like the sun.
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