3-D NASA animation displays a surface pit eroded by stars in the Orion nebula

February 15, 2018, Leiden University

When professor Frank Israel graduated at Leiden Observatory some forty years ago, little did he know that one of his theories would be making headlines in 2018—in the form of a 3-D animation on the Internet, no less.

Even before his graduation, Israel became interested in the significant and mysterious difference in velocity of the stars in the heart of the Orion and the gases that surround them. For his doctoral research, he studied luminous gaseous nebulae, including the Orion nebula, as seen in wavelengths in the radio part of the light spectrum (measured with the radio telescope in Westerbork, the Netherlands). Many of these nebulae came in a form inexplicable by the theories of the time: asymmetrical and with an uneven, uncentered distribution of stars.

In the year leading up to Israel's promotion, radiation emanated by carbon monoxide molecules could be measured for the very first time; the presence of this radiation proved the existence of enormous, solid and largely invisible of molecular gas and dust. Inspired by two publications that described the Orion nebula as a number of gases flowing along the surface of such a cloud, Israel measured the properties of several dozen similar gaseous nebulae.

He found that the vast majority of gaseous nebulae in the Milky Way came into being by the formation of extremely luminous stars on the outher surface of these large, dark clouds. After their formation, these stars ionise their environment, which up until that point had been neutral. The ionisation front digs into the cloud as it grows, causing a pressure differential with the thin, rarefied gas outside the cloud. The ionised gas rushes outward, moving far faster than the stars that illuminate it.

A new video by NASA displays a surface pit, eroded by stars, in the Orion nebula. It is artfully animated and what is more, that pit (called a blister) matches precisely the predictions and descriptions that Frank Israel and his colleagues came up with those forty years ago. Credit: NASA

All this was in contradiction to the common theory of the time, according to which form in the centres of clouds; however, in spite of the paradigm shift, the new rapidly became an accepted view of nebula formation.

For this new video, researchers working at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and the Caltech/Infrared Processing and Analysis Center in Pasadena have combined scientific techniques and data with special effects and computer graphics. The video is being distributed to American observatories and museums hoping to provide their visitors with a crystal clear picture of these ideas—ideas that found their origins some forty years ago, at the Leiden Observatory.

Explore further: Glory from gloom

Related Stories

Glory from gloom

January 31, 2018

A dark cloud of cosmic dust snakes across this spectacular wide field image, illuminated by the brilliant light of new stars. This dense cloud is a star-forming region called Lupus 3, where dazzlingly hot stars are born from ...

Atacama Pathfinder Experiment: Setting the dark on fire

January 23, 2013

(Phys.org)—A new image from the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile shows a beautiful view of clouds of cosmic dust in the region of Orion. While these dense interstellar clouds seem dark and obscured ...

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 ...

Embracing Orion

August 26, 2013

(Phys.org) —This new view of the Orion A star-formation cloud from ESA's Herschel space observatory shows the turbulent region of space that hugs the famous Orion Nebula.

Astrophoto: Beautiful new look at the Orion Nebula

March 28, 2013

The enormous cloud of dust and gas that makes up the Orion Nebula is featured in this beautiful astrophoto. This image was a joint effort, with images taken by Gary Gonnella – a regular on our Virtual Star Parties – and ...

Recommended for you

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

A river of stars in the solar neighborhood

February 15, 2019

Astronomy & Astrophysics publishes the work of researchers from the University of Vienna, who have found a river of stars, a stellar stream in astronomical parlance, covering most of the southern sky. The stream is relatively ...

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...


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.