Looking Down The Mouth Of An Interstellar Cavern

January 6, 2006
Looking Down The Mouth Of An Interstellar Cavern
Image: Gemini Legacy Image of superbubble complex N44 as imaged with GMOS on the Gemini South Telescope in Chile. Composite color image by Traivs Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage.

A storm of billowing clouds blown by the winds from massive stars, and set aglow by their light, is the focus of a striking image released today by Gemini Observatory.

Known as the N44 superbubble complex, this cloudy tempest is dominated by a vast bubble about 325 by 250 light-years across. A cluster of massive stars inside the cavern has cleared away gas to form a distinctive mouth-shaped hollow shell.

While astronomers do not agree on exactly how this bubble has evolved for up to the past 10 million years, they do know that the central cluster of massive stars is responsible for the cloud's unusual appearance. It is likely that the explosive death of one or more of the cluster's most massive and short-lived stars played a key role in the formation of the large bubble.

"This region is like a giant laboratory providing us with a glimpse into many unique phenomena," said Sally Oey of the University of Michigan, who has studied this object extensively. "Observations from space have even revealed x-ray-emitting gas escaping from this superbubble, and while this is expected, this is the only object of its kind where we have actually seen it happening."

One of the mysteries surrounding this object points to the role that supernova explosions (marking the destruction of the most massive of the central cluster's stars) could have played in sculpting the cloud.

Philip Massey of Lowell Observatory, who studied this region along with Oey, adds "When we look at the speed of the gases in this cloud we find inconsistencies in the size of the bubble and the expected velocities of the winds from the central cluster of massive stars. Supernovae, the ages of the central stars, or the orientation and shape of the cloud might explain this, but the bottom line is that there's still lots of exciting science to be done here and these new images will undoubtedly help."

The Gemini data used to produce this image are being released to the astronomical community for further research and follow- up analysis. The image provides one of the most detailed views ever obtained of this relatively large region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way, located some 150,000 light- years away and visible from the Southern Hemisphere.

The images captured light of specific colors that reveal the compression of material and the presence of gases (primarily excited hydrogen gas and lesser amounts of oxygen and "shocked" sulfur) in the cloud.

Multiple smaller bubbles appear in the image as bulbous growths clinging to the central superbubble. Most of these regions were probably formed as part of the same process that shaped the central cluster. Their formation could also have been "sparked" by compression as the central stars pushed the surrounding gas outward. Our view into this cavern could really be like looking through an elongated tube, which lends the object its monstrous mouth-like appearance.

The images used to produce the color composite were obtained with the Gemini Multi-object Spectrograph (GMOS) at the Gemini South Telescope on Cerro Pachón in Chile. The color image was produced by Travis Rector of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Source: Gemini Observatory

Explore further: Astronomers find potential solution into how planets form

Related Stories

Astronomers discover unusual spindle-like galaxies

October 12, 2017

Galaxies are majestic, rotating wheels of stars? Not in the case of the spindle-like galaxies studied by Athanasia Tsatsi (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) and her colleagues. Using the CALIFA survey, the astronomers found ...

Image: Intense star formation in the Westerhout 43 region

August 1, 2017

Hidden from our sight, the Westerhout 43 star-forming region is revealed in full glory in this far-infrared image from ESA's Herschel space observatory. This giant cloud, where a multitude of massive stars come to life in ...

Recommended for you

Metacognition training boosts gen chem exam scores

October 20, 2017

It's a lesson in scholastic humility: You waltz into an exam, confident that you've got a good enough grip on the class material to swing an 80 percent or so, maybe a 90 if some of the questions go your way.

Two teams independently test Tomonaga–Luttinger theory

October 20, 2017

(Phys.org)—Two teams of researchers working independently of one another have found ways to test aspects of the Tomonaga–Luttinger theory that describes interacting quantum particles in 1-D ensembles in a Tomonaga–Luttinger ...

Dawn mission extended at Ceres

October 20, 2017

NASA has authorized a second extension of the Dawn mission at Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. During this extension, the spacecraft will descend to lower altitudes than ever before ...

0 comments

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.