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Spitzer and ALMA Reveal a Star's Bubbly Birth

Combined observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the newly completed Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile have revealed the throes of stellar birth, as never before, in the well-studied object known as HH 46/47. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ALMA

Combined observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the newly completed Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile have revealed the throes of stellar birth, as never before, in the well-studied object known as HH 46/47.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ALMA

It's a bouncing baby star! Combined observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the newly completed Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile have revealed the throes of stellar birth as never before in the well-studied object known as HH 46/47.

Herbig-Haro (HH) objects form when jets shot out by newborn stars collide with surrounding material, producing small, bright, nebulous regions. To our eyes, the dynamics within many HH objects are obscured by enveloping gas and dust. But the infrared and submillimeter wavelengths of light seen by Spitzer and ALMA, respectively, pierce the dark cosmic cloud around HH 46/47 to let us in on the action. 

The Spitzer observations show twin supersonic jets emanating from the central star that blast away surrounding gas and set it alight into two bubbly lobes. HH 46/47 happens to sit on the edge of its enveloping cloud in such a way that the jets pass through two differing cosmic environments. The rightward jet, heading into the cloud, is plowing through a "wall" of material, while the leftward jet's path out of the cloud is relatively unobstructed, passing through less material. This orientation serves scientists well by offering a useful compare-and-contrast setup for how the outflows from a developing star interact with their surroundings. 

The fresh views of HH 46/47 by ALMA have revealed that the gas in the lobes is expanding faster than previously thought. This faster expansion has an influence on the overall amount of turbulence in the gaseous cloud that originally spawned the star. In turn, the extra turbulence could have an impact on whether and how other stars might form in this gaseous, dusty, and thus fertile, ground for star-making.

Read the full story on NASA's website

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