Space & Innovation

Mysteries Hidden Deep Inside Orion Star Factory Have Been Laid Bare

Like an ultrasound revealing a mother's fetus for the first time, a powerful telescope has taken its own kind of ultrasound of a star-forming molecular cloud and resolved, in stunning detail, baby stars in the first moments of stellar development.

The Orion A molecular cloud is the nearest "star factory" to Earth, some 1,350 light-years away in the constellation of Orion, but despite being in our galactic backyard the dusty cloud hides many secrets, especially if we observe the nebula in visible light. Observing the region in infrared wavelengths, however, cuts through the haze and can reveal hot baby stars cocooned deep inside the star-forming nebula.

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With the help of the VISTA infrared survey telescope at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile, this new view of Orion A is the most detailed look into the nebula available to date. As part of the VISION survey (VIenna Survey In Orion), these observations are sensitive in the near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, revealing very young stars that produce radiation at longer infrared wavelengths, radiation that would have been otherwise obscured by dust deep inside the nebula. Here are some of the embryonic stars the survey was able to see:

These are baby stars in their earliest stages of development, including clumps of material featuring disks of dust and gas that will go on to spark nuclear processes that will go on to form stars. Also, nebulous formations known as Herbig-Haro objects can be seen - basically stars in the first moments of birth. The new high-resolution VISTA observations that cut through the thick clouds that choke stellar nurseries could revolutionize our understanding of stellar processes, uncovering some of the most mysterious processes that drive star formation.

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