Radio astronomers peer deep into the stellar nursery of the Orion Nebula

June 15, 2017
In this composite image combining GBT radio and WISE infrared observations, the filament of ammonia molecules appears red and Orion Nebula gas appears blue. Credit: R. Friesen, Dunlap Institute; J. Pineda, MPIP; GBO/AUI/NSF

Astronomers have released an image of a vast filament of star-forming gas, 1200 light-years away, in the stellar nursery of the Orion Nebula.

The image shows ammonia molecules within a 50-light-year long filament detected through radio observations made with the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. That image is combined with an image of the Orion Nebula—an object familiar to amateur and professional astronomers alike—taken with NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explore (WISE) telescope.

"We still don't understand in detail how large clouds of gas in our Galaxy collapse to form new stars," says Rachel Friesen, one of the collaboration's co-Principal Investigators and, until 31 May 2017, a Dunlap Fellow at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto.

"But ammonia is an excellent tracer of dense, star-forming gas," says Friesen, "and these large ammonia maps will allow us to track the motions and temperature of the densest gas. This is critical to assessing whether gas clouds and filaments are stable, or are undergoing collapse on their way to forming new stars."

The image accompanies the first release of results from the collaboration's Green Bank Ammonia Survey (GAS), published in the Astrophysical Journal. The collaboration's other co-Principal Investigator is Jaime Pineda, from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics; the team also includes astronomers from the University of Toronto's Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics.

The goal of GAS is to survey all the major, nearby star-forming regions in the northern half of the Gould Belt—a ring of young stars and that circles the entire sky and runs through the constellation Orion. The survey will eventually provide a clearer picture over a larger portion of the sky of the temperatures and motions of gas within these dynamic stellar nurseries.

Additional notes:

1) The first GAS data release includes data from observations of four Gould Belt clouds: B18 in the constellation Taurus; NGC 1333 in Perseus; L1688 in Ophiuchus; and Orion A North in Orion.

2) The 100-metre Green Bank Telescope is located in the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 34 thousand square kilometre area in which radio transmissions are tightly restricted. The Green Bank Observatory (GBO) is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under a cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

Explore further: Hidden secrets of Orion's clouds

More information: The Green Bank Ammonia Survey (GAS): First Results of NH3 Mapping the Gould Belt: arxiv.org/abs/1704.06318

Related Stories

Hidden secrets of Orion's clouds

January 4, 2017

This spectacular new image is one of the largest near-infrared high-resolution mosaics of the Orion A molecular cloud, the nearest known massive star factory, lying about 1350 light-years from Earth. It was taken using the ...

New Hubble mosaic of the Orion Nebula

March 17, 2017

In the search for rogue planets and failed stars astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have created a new mosaic image of the Orion Nebula. During their survey of the famous star formation region, they found ...

Study reveals the galaxy is under pressure to make stars

June 1, 2016

A new study led by Canadian astronomers provides unprecedented insights into the birth of stars. Using observations from the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Hawaii-based James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in the ...

Orion in a New Ligh (w/ Video)

February 10, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Orion Nebula reveals many of its hidden secrets in a dramatic image taken by ESO’s new VISTA survey telescope. The telescope’s huge field of view can show the full splendour of the whole nebula and ...

ESO's dustbuster reveals hidden stars

October 3, 2016

In this new image of the nebula Messier 78, young stars cast a bluish pall over their surroundings, while red fledgling stars peer out from their cocoons of cosmic dust. To our eyes, most of these stars would be hidden behind ...

Recommended for you

Dutch astronomers discover recipe to make cosmic glycerol

June 23, 2017

A team of laboratory astrophysicists from Leiden University (the Netherlands) managed to make glycerol under conditions comparable to those in dark interstellar clouds. They allowed carbon monoxide ice to react with hydrogen ...

Scientists uncover origins of the Sun's swirling spicules

June 22, 2017

At any given moment, as many as 10 million wild jets of solar material burst from the sun's surface. They erupt as fast as 60 miles per second, and can reach lengths of 6,000 miles before collapsing. These are spicules, and ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Chris_Reeve
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 15, 2017
"We still don't understand in detail how large clouds of gas in our Galaxy collapse to form new stars"
rossim22
3 / 5 (2) Jun 15, 2017
This is a filament of plasma, not gas. Therefore it will not simply be collapsing from gravity, we will observe particles moving in spirals along a single axis. That's how charged particles behave in a weak electric field. Any neutral atoms being bombarded by these charged particles will then be moving along the same axis as well.
Steelwolf
not rated yet Jun 18, 2017
Actually rossim22, the above picture shows Ammonia Molecules, which are certainly Not plasma. This is a cooled cas, likely has been brought together by the magnetic and gravitational attractions to form the clouds and filaments seen. This is a cool gas and even though it likely does contain a percentage of plasma, the presence of the molecules of ammonia show that it is not all ionized.

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.