Newborn star (unsuccessfully) plays 'hide-and-seek' in gas cloud

Running Man nebula
A bright jet peeks out from NGC 1977, a part of the Running Man nebula complex. 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))

Peekaboo! We see you, little star.

While you can't easily see the celestial object inside all of this gas surrounding it, a new Hubble Space Telescope image shows a huge plasma jet emanating from the young star.

The stream of gas comes from a young star called Parengo 2042, growing up in the usual disk of debris that surrounds stellar nurseries. This jet of plasma, some two light-years long, is also being influenced by the environment around it, NASA said in a statement.

"The gas of the jet has been ionized until it glows by the radiation of a nearby star, 42 Orionis. This makes it particularly useful to researchers because its outflow remains visible under the ionizing radiation of nearby stars," NASA stated.

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And just like many youngsters playing hide-and-seek, the jet was made accidentally visible — not because of movement, but because of the process of ionization, or stripping away charged electrons from the gas. 

"Typically," the agency continued, "the outflow of jets like this would only be visible as it collided with surrounding material, creating bright shock waves that vanish as they cool."

The image shows a complex environment rendered in different colors in image processing. Red and orange show off the jet and glowing gas. Blue ripples are bow shocks coming from 42 Orionis, not visible in the image. "Bow shocks happen in space when streams of gas collide, and are named after the crescent-shaped waves made by a ship as it moves through water," NASA said.

NGC 1977 is part of three nebulae that make up the Running Man Nebula, in the constellation Orion. This image was captured before a synchronization glitch disrupted Hubble observations Oct. 23, but the 31-year-old observatory is slowly getting its instruments back online. Astronaut service missions have been impossible since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

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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: