NASA's Spitzer discovers time-delayed jets around young star

Apr 05, 2011 By Whitney Clavin
This image layout shows two views of the same baby star -- at left is a visible-light image, and at right is an infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(PhysOrg.com) -- Astronomers have discovered that two symmetrical jets shooting away from opposite sides of a blossoming star are experiencing a time delay: knots of gas and dust from one jet blast off four-and-a-half years later than identical knots from the other jet.

The finding, which required the infrared vision of NASA's , is helping astronomers understand how jets are produced around forming , including those resembling our sun when it was young.

"More studies are needed to determine if other jets have time delays," said Alberto Noriega-Crespo of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who is a co-author of the new study to be published in the April 1 issue of . "Now we know that in at least one case, there appears to be a delay, which tells us that some sort of communication may be going on between the jets that takes time to occur."

Jets are an active phase in a young star's life. A star begins as a collapsing, roundish cloud of gas and dust. By ejecting supersonic jets of gas, the cloud slows down its spinning. As material falls onto the growing star, it develops a surrounding disk of swirling material and twin jets that shoot off from above and below the disk, like a spinning top.

Once the star ignites and shines with starlight, the jets will die off and the disk will thin out. Ultimately, planets may clump together out of material left in the spinning disk.

The discovery of the time delay, in the jets called Herbig-Haro 34, has also led the astronomers to narrow in on the size of the zone from which the jets originate. The new Spitzer observations limit this zone to a circle around the young star with a radius of 3 astronomical units. An is the distance between our sun and Earth. This is about 10 times smaller than previous estimates.

"Where we stand today on Earth was perhaps once a very violent place where high-velocity gas and dust were ejected from the disk circling around our very young sun," said Alex Raga of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the first author of the paper. "If so, the formation of planets like Earth depends on how and when this phenomenon ended. Essentially, every star like our own sun has gone through a similar cloud-disk-jets formation process."

One of the jets in Herbig-Haro 34 had been studied extensively for years, but the other remained hidden behind a dark cloud. Spitzer's sensitive infrared vision was able to pierce this cloud, revealing the obscured jet in greater detail than ever before. Spitzer images show that the newfound jet is perfectly symmetrical to its twin, with identical knots of ejected material.

This symmetry turned out to be key to the discovery of the jets' time delay. By measuring the exact distances from the knots to the star, the astronomy team was able to figure out that, for every knot of material punched out by one jet, a similar knot is shot out in the opposite direction 4.5 years later. This calculation also depended on the speed of the jets, which was known from previous studies by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Other symmetrical jets similar to Herbig-Haro 34 have been observed closely before, but it is not clear if they are also experiencing time delays.

The astronomers say that some kind of communication is going on between the Herbig-Haro 34 jets, likely carried by sound waves. Knowing the length of the time delay and the speed of sound allowed them to calculate the maximum size of the jet-making zone.

The astronomy team is currently analyzing other jets imaged by Spitzer, looking for more evidence of time delays.

The Spitzer observations were made before it used up its liquid coolant in May 2009 and began its warm mission.

Explore further: Quest for extraterrestrial life not over, experts say

Related Stories

New Herbig-Haro jets in Orion

Aug 20, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A research team using the Subaru Prime Focus Camera (Suprime-Cam) has obtained some of the deepest and highest resolution images ever taken of the large star-forming molecular cloud Lynds ...

Hubble movies show traffic jam in stellar jets

Dec 05, 2005

Astronomers track massive shockwaves in plasma escaping newborn star Like traffic on a freeway, plasma spewing from the poles of newborn stars moves in clumps that travel at different speeds. When fast-moving ...

Recommended for you

Quest for extraterrestrial life not over, experts say

Apr 18, 2014

The discovery of an Earth-sized planet in the "habitable" zone of a distant star, though exciting, is still a long way from pointing to the existence of extraterrestrial life, experts said Friday. ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

Apr 18, 2014

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Exoplanets soon to gleam in the eye of NESSI

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI) will soon get its first "taste" of exoplanets, helping astronomers decipher their chemical composition. Exoplanets are planets ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1 / 5 (7) Apr 05, 2011
Those jets are probably from the neutron star on which the star is forming.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
Parsec
5 / 5 (4) Apr 06, 2011
Those jets are probably from the neutron star on which the star is forming.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo

You have a LOT of neutron stars in your Universe. You have a source? Or are they just spontaneously created? After all, if they are created from stars, and one is required whenever a star is created, then the total number of stars can never actually grow. Where did the very first star originate from?
omatumr
1 / 5 (4) Apr 06, 2011
Many years ago it was reported that there were too few neutron stars. If you can't find the source, I'll try to find it for you.

Anyway, we now know why.

Those missing neutron stars are the cores of ordinary stars.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel

More news stories

Another fireball explodes over Russia

Why does Russia seem to get so many bright meteors? Well at 6.6 million square miles it's by far the largest country in the world plus, with dashboard-mounted cameras being so commonplace (partly to help ...

ISEE-3 comes to visit Earth

(Phys.org) —It launched in 1978. It was the first satellite to study the constant flow of solar wind streaming toward Earth from a stable orbit point between our planet and the sun known as the Lagrangian ...

NASA's MMS observatories stacked for testing

(Phys.org) —Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., accomplished another first. Using a large overhead crane, they mated two Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, observatories – ...

Easter morning delivery for space station

Space station astronauts got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies. The shipment arrived Sunday morning via the SpaceX company's Dragon cargo capsule.

Teachers' scare tactics may lead to lower exam scores

As the school year winds down and final exams loom, teachers may want to avoid reminding students of the bad consequences of failing a test because doing so could lead to lower scores, according to new research published ...