Shock! Hubble telescope traces collisions in 'Running Man' nebula

Running Man Nebula
Shock waves dominate this view of HH 45, a part of the Running Man nebula. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Bally (University of Colorado at Boulder); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America) (Image credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Bally (University of Colorado at Boulder); Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America))

Any parent of newborns know just how powerful even small things are.

The same is true in space, where baby stars in a section of a nebula, or gas cloud, create a series a powerful shockwaves visible in a new Hubble Space Telescope image.

Hubble was on the hunt for how young stars influence their environment, and this image of Herbig-Haro (HH) 45 gives abundant evidence. (To go all "Inception" for a moment, this object is embedded in a nebula called NGC 1977, which itself is part of the larger "Running Man" set of three nebulas. So you can see this is a rather complex neighborhood in which the stars are growing up.)

Related: The best Hubble Space Telescope images of all time!

In HH45, what we see here is a rare manifestation of a nebula that happens after a newborn star spews hot gas, NASA noted. This activity "collides with the gas and dust around it at hundreds of miles per second, creating bright shock waves," agency personnel wrote in a statement.

The Hubble image shows two sets of ionized gases glowing as the collision strips away charged electrons from their atoms. Blue shows ionized oxygen, while purple indicates ionized magnesium. "Researchers were particularly interested in these elements because they can be used to identify shocks and ionization fronts," NASA said.

Hubble is coming back online from a synchronization glitch that occurred on Oct. 23 and sent its science instruments into safe mode. But while Hubble personnel get its instruments back to normal, there's lots of work available from previous investigations. 

The 31-year-old observatory was last serviced in person in 2009 and has not been visited by astronauts since the space shuttle retired in 2011, due to inaccessibility with current spacecraft.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: