The Hubble Space Telescope has peered into a vast stellar nursery and snapped a photo of a newly born star.
The image shows part of the Orion Nebula, a bright and massive star-forming region just 1,500 light-years or so from Earth. The rich, colorful glow of the nebula fills the entire picture. Just left of center sits a star embedded in a pinkish cloud ? the leftover gas and dust from which it formed. [New Hubble photo of Orion Nebula.]
This leftover material may accrete to form planets and eventually solar systems as intricate as our own. A similar gaseous cloud likely cocooned our own sun about five billion years ago, before Earth and our neighboring planets formed.
The narrow pink jet extending away to the upper right of the young star is part of an object called Herbig-Haro 502. Herbig-Haro objects are glowing gaseous areas close to recently formed stars. They are created when very young stars eject gas at breakneck speeds ? up to hundreds of kilometers per second ? which heats the surrounding gas and causes it to glow.
These ephemeral shockwaves are thought to dissipate after a few thousand years, the blink of an eye in the cosmic scheme of things. Herbig-Haro objects vary in size but are often much larger than our own solar system.
The Orion Nebula is one of the closest areas of star formation to us. Hubble has spent a lot of time looking at Orion, as researchers have often used the space telescope to study how stars form and evolve. Images such as this can help astronomers understand more about how the universe developed and how it is changing, researchers have said.
This image was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. The picture was created from images taken through filters that isolate the light from glowing hydrogen (colored red in the picture), ionized oxygen (green) and yellow light (blue). The exposure times were 1,000 seconds, 2,000 seconds and 1,000 seconds, respectively.
The field of view is about 3.3 arcminutes across as seen by Hubble. The moon, in comparison, is about 30 arcminutes (half a degree) across when viewed from Earth. An arcminute is a unit of angular distance equal to a 60th of a degree.
The nearly 20-year-old Hubble observatory has been snapping iconic photos of the universe since it was launched in April 1990. Over the years it has been visited by astronauts multiple times for repairs and upgrades, including during a space shuttle mission in May 2009. That trip left the telescope in good enough shape to keep running for at least five more years.
- Images: Spectacular Photos From the Hubble Space Telescope
- Top 10 Star Mysteries
- Truth Behind the Photos: What Hubble Really Sees