New movies created from years of still images collected by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope provide exciting details about the birth of stars, showing energetic jets of glowing gas ejected from young stars in unprecedented detail.
The jets are a byproduct of gas accretion around newly forming stars and shoot off at supersonic speeds of about 100 miles per second in opposite directions through space.
These phenomena provide clues about the final stages of a star's birth, offering a peek at how our sun came into existence 4.5 billion years ago.
Hubble's extreme sharpness lets astronomers see changes in the jets over just a few years' time. Most astronomical processes change over scales that are much longer than a human lifetime.
A team led by astronomer Patrick Hartigan of Rice University in Houston, Texas, collected enough high-resolution Hubble images over 14 years to stitch together time-lapse movies of the jets ejected from three young stars.
For the first time we can actually observe how these jets interact with their surroundings by watching these time-lapse movies, said Hartigan. Those interactions tell us how young stars influence the environments out of which they form. With movies like these, we can now compare observations of the jets with those produced by computer simulations and laboratory experiments to see what aspects of the interactions we understand and what parts we don't understand.
Hartigan and his colleagues used the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 to study the jets, called Herbig-Haro (HH) objects, named in honor of George Herbig and Guillermo Haro, who studied the outflows in the 1950s. Hubble followed HH 1, HH 2, HH 34, HH 46 and HH 47 over three epochs, 1994, 1998 and 2008.
The team used software that wove together these observations to generate movies showing continuous motion.