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.
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.
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.