Embryonic Star Captured With Jets Flaring

Nov 29, 2007
Embryonic Star Captured With Jets Flaring
A rare, infrared view of a developing star and its flaring jets taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UIUC

A developing star wrapped in a black cocoon of dust is seen sprouting giant jets in a new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

The stellar portrait, seen in infrared light, offers the first glimpse at a very early stage in the life of an embryonic sun-like star -- a time when the star's natal envelope is beginning to flatten and collapse, and streams of gas are escaping. The observations will ultimately help astronomers better understand how stars and their planets form.

"This is the first time we've clearly seen a flattened envelope around a forming star," said Leslie Looney of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, lead author of a study about the star, called L1157, appearing Dec. 1 in Astrophysical Journal Letters. "Some theories had predicted that envelopes flatten as they collapse onto their stars and surrounding planet-forming disks, but we hadn't seen any strong evidence of this until now."

Stars are born out of thick clouds, or envelopes, of gas and dust that condense and collapse inward. As a star grows and feeds off the envelope, it spins faster and faster like a twirling ice skater. A disk of planet-forming material begins to take shape in orbit around the star, and jets of gas shoot up from above and below the disk to relieve the star's accumulating pressure. Eventually, the original envelope falls onto the spinning disk, and the jets slow to a stop.

The regions where all the action takes place are dark and dusty, letting little visible light escape. For example, the embryonic star L1157 appears black in visible-light views. Spitzer's infrared view of the star, on the other hand, penetrates the dusty haze, giving us a rare look at what our own solar system might have looked like when it was very young.

The bipolar jets shooting away from L1157 are enormous; light itself would take about nine months to travel the length of one jet. The color white shows the hottest parts of the jets, with temperatures around 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). Most of the material in the jets, seen in orange, is roughly zero degrees on the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales.

The flattened envelope around the fledgling star is perpendicular to the jets and appears deep black. This is because it is so thick with dust that even infrared light cannot escape. The envelope is big enough to engulf the equivalent of tens of thousands of mature solar systems similar to our own, while the planet-forming disk tucked inside cannot be seen in this photo - it is smaller than a pixel.

L1157 is located about 800 light-years away in the constellation Cepheus. It is roughly 10,000 years old, and, according to astronomers' estimates, will ignite to become a full-fledged star about the mass of our sun in a million years or so.

"Taking baby pictures of stars is not easy to do," said Looney. "Now that we have a good picture, we can begin to ask questions about whether this star system and its potential planets will grow up to become like ours."

Other authors of this study include John J. Tobin of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Woojin Kwan of the University of Illinois.

Source: NASA

Explore further: Study explains why galaxies don't churn out as many stars as they should

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Deadly frog fungus dates back to 1880s, studies find

22 minutes ago

A deadly fungus responsible for the extinction of more than 200 amphibian species worldwide has coexisted harmlessly with animals in Illinois and Korea for more than a century, a pair of studies have found.

Think twice about investing in own company

1 hour ago

Employees whose retirement plan is invested in stock of the company where they work do not pull out money as the firms approach financial distress, a recently released, but yet to be published paper, co-authored ...

Recommended for you

Far from home: Wayward cluster is both tiny and distant

Mar 03, 2015

Like the lost little puppy that wanders too far from home, astronomers have found an unusually small and distant group of stars that seems oddly out of place. The cluster, made of only a handful of stars, ...

An old-looking galaxy in a young universe

Mar 02, 2015

A team of astronomers, led by Darach Watson, from the University of Copenhagen used the Very Large Telescope's X-shooter instrument along with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to observe ...

Giant methane storms on Uranus

Mar 02, 2015

Most of the times we have looked at Uranus, it has seemed to be a relatively calm place. Well, yes its atmosphere is the coldest place in the solar system. But, when we picture the seventh planet in our ...

Where do stars form in merging galaxies?

Mar 02, 2015

Collisions between galaxies, and even less dramatic gravitational encounters between them, are recognized as triggering star formation. Observations of luminous galaxies, powered by starbursts, are consistent ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.