The Explosive Disintegration of a Young Stellar System in Orion

Oct 23, 2009
An image of the dramatic explosion in the Orion Nebula, as seen in its shocked fingers of material, with jet of rapidly moving gas measured by the SMA overlaid in color. Blue represents gas moving towards us; red - away from us. Astronomers conclude that a catastrophic event 500 years in a cluster of massive young stars led to this remarkable outflow. Credit: Zapata et al., 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Orion Nebula is one of the most beautiful sights of the winter night sky, its gas and dust glowing from the intense ultraviolet radiation of a cluster of massive young stars.

At 1300 light-years away, the nebula is the closest nursery of massive stars to us. It is also a well-studied region, in part because astronomers recognize that the birth of massive stars involves a subset of the processes that produce all stars, while their deaths, as supernovae, will scatter into space the rich mix of made in their nuclear furnaces, elements without which life could not exist.

The is, however, still full of mysteries. Not far from its four bright stars -- the Trapezium -- is a luminous knot of three that shines with as much light as 100,000 suns (although at visible wavelengths it is completely obscured by dust). Surrounding the knot and extending radially outward from it over almost a light-year in length, like a fireworks display, are about forty narrow filaments of shocked material; furthermore the filaments contain gas seen moving at speeds of up to about 300,000 miles per hour. These fingers of material all point back to a central location near the knot. The energy in this explosive display is estimated to be as much as that from a hundred trillion suns; nothing else quite like it is known.

SAO astronomer Paul Ho and four of his colleagues used the Submillimeter Array and its precise spatial and velocity measuring capabilities to study the gas in the enigmatic jets of this region. They determined much of the three-dimensional structure of the explosion, with some jets moving towards us and others away from us. Not least, they found the spatial relationships of the jets to the shocked fingers, and to the bright knot whose component stars they confirmed are rapidly moving apart.

The astronomers arrive at a dramatic conclusion, one that had been hypothesized earlier by other astronomers studying this region: about 500 years ago a violent explosion of some kind disrupted the massive cluster, scattering the three stars in the knot apart, and ejecting the fingers and jets of material. What prompted the catastrophe is not understood but, although the phenomenon is unique as far as is currently known, similar events might be responsible for energetic activity in other galaxies too far away to probe with the detail possible in Orion.

Provided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (news : web)

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User comments : 7

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yyz
5 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2009
While these outflow jets have been studied in infrared and sub-millimeter wavelengths over the past 20 years, evidence for violent expulsion from the Orion Nebula stellar cluster has been known for over half a century. Three 'runaway' stars widely scattered across the sky have been found to have proper motions that place them near the central part of the nebula over 2.5 million years ago. Check out the details of these three castaways at the Wiki page for AE Aurigae and links therein here: http://en.wikiped..._Aurigae . Being a young, massive star cluster, the Orion Nebula and its embedded cluster is quite a dynamic place to be. Lucky for us that the Orion Nebula is relatively close and thus can be observed in great detail. Obviously, something quite energetic occurred here 500 years ago, perhaps producing more 'runaway' stars in the process.
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2009
The energy in this explosive display is estimated to be as much as that from a hundred trillion suns; nothing else quite like it is known.

10**14 suns? The local galaxy is estimated to have 2*10**11 suns only.
yyz
5 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2009
Some amazing narrowband/near-IR color images of a few of these jets from 2007 taken by the 8.1m Gemini North 'scope are available here: file:///C:/Users/Jon/Desktop/UNIVERSE/The UNIVERSE v2.0/Nebulae/M 42 = NGC 1976=Ori Neb/M-42 'Bullets' region w-Gem N & AO 3-22-07/Caption for 8m Gemini pix of 'Bullets' in M 42 3-22-07.htm .

@frajo: something does indeed seem amiss with this estimate, though not due to the estimated stellar content of our galaxy.
yyz
5 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2009
The Gemini North image of the jets in M 42 can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/ylbxcud . Additionally, a paper on a wide-field IR survey of the Orion Nebula stellar cluster recently appeared on the arXiv eprint server and can be found here: http://arxiv.org/...94v1.pdf (This is a largish file).
brant
not rated yet Oct 24, 2009
Do Supernova have these also??
yyz
5 / 5 (1) Oct 25, 2009
Ack. Try this again. The 2007 images of the 'jets' (they call them bullets) by the Gemini North are available here: http://www.gemini...jpg.html . @brant, these particular jets are probably caused by massive outflows of gas and dust from giant and supergiant stars in the Orion Nebula. They are probably not of supernova origin.
omatumr
1 / 5 (2) Oct 25, 2009
The Energy Source?

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but "mysterious" explosions suggest that an energy source has been overlooked.

"Oscillating" solar neutrinos probably also point to the same overlooked source of nuclear energy.

Repulsive interactions between neutrons? Do you know of others?

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel