Photos: Moment of Violent Starbirth Captured

This stunning image of the birth of a star with colorful energetic jets combines both radio and visible light observations from some of the largest telescopes in the wolrd in Chile.   Credit: ESO/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/H. Arce. Acknowledgements: Bo Reipurth
This stunning image of the birth of a star with colorful energetic jets combines both radio and visible light observations from some of the largest telescopes in the world located in Chile.
Credit: ESO/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/H. Arce. Acknowledgements: Bo Reipurth

While Hollywood paparazzi prize a first snapshot of a celebrity’s newborn, astrophotographers are always on the hunt for something more elusive—the birth of distant stars like our sun.

Now it looks like astronomer may have photographic evidence. Using a giant radio telescope in the Chilean desert, they have managed to  snap images of the first moments of life of a true cosmic rock-star in never-before-seen, stunning detail. (Related: The Largest Baby Star, Ever?)

Thanks to the high resolution imaging capability of a new giant radio telescope array called the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers have been able to reveal previously unseen powerful jets of carbon monoxide shooting out from opposite sides of a glowing mass of gas that’s home to a newborn star.

The ALMA observations reveal a large energetic jet moving away from us, as seen in the colors of orange and green in the lower right of the above image. Meanwhile another jet, visible in pink and purple towards the left of the baby star, is beaming towards Earth.

This wide-field view shows a rich region of dust clouds and star formation in the southern constellation of Vela. Close to the centre of the picture the jets of the Herbig-Haro object HH 46/47 can be seen emerging from a dark cloud in which infant stars are being born. Credit:  ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin
This wide-field view shows a rich region filled with sdust clouds and tar factories in the southern constellation of Vela. Close to the center of the image are the jets of the Herbig-Haro object HH 46/47 emerging from a dark cloud filled with newborn stars. Credit:
ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

 

The object—which shines in a kaleidoscope of colors—is called Herbig-Haro 46/47. It was named for the astronomers who first studied their spectrum in detail—and sits some 1400 light years from Earth in the southern constellation Vela. (Related: “Most Massive Star Discovered—Shatters Record.”)

The speeds at which the jets are spewing out material has stunned scientists. Clocked at nearly a million kilometers (620,000 miles) an hour, these blasts slam into surrounding gas and dust—making them light up like neon signs.

This image from ESO's New Technology Telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the Herbig-Haro object HH 46/47 as jets emerging from a star-forming dark cloud.  Credit: ESO/Bo Reipurth
This image from ESO’s New Technology Telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile shows the Herbig-Haro object HH 46/47 as jets emerging from a star-forming dark cloud.
Credit: ESO/Bo Reipurth

 

Up until now, a large, dark, dust cloud has made parts of these jets near invisible- as seen in the above visible light image taken by ALMA’s neighboring observatory, ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT). However with the combined power of 66 antennae working together,  astronomers have been able to pull back the veil of obscuring dust and capture in stunning detail the birth of a faraway star.

 

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Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.