Aug 10th: Orion Nebula: Mother of the Year


Podcaster: Richard Drumm
Space Scoop: Orion Nebula: Mother of the Year

Organization:365 Days Of Astronomy

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Description: Space scoop, news for children.

Story about Orion nebula

Bio: Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society and President of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, a video production company with clients such as Kodak, Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He has found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.

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This is the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Today we bring you a new episode in our Space Scoop series. This show is produced in collaboration with Universe Awareness, a program that strives to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.

Orion Nebula: Mother of the Year

In 2009, a woman in the US broke the world record for most children delivered in a single birth, when she gave birth to eight healthy, but tiny babies.

In the animal kingdom, the record is held by the male sea horse which can carry up to 2,000 babies at a time, before giving birth like a living confetti cannon. However, the real winner of the ‘Mother of the Year’ award are nebulae.

Cosmic nebulae that is.

Nebulae are clouds of gas and dust in space, from which billions of new stars are born. Like seahorses, stars are normally born with thousands of siblings, all of which form from the same cloud.

The most famous star-forming cloud in the sky is the Orion Nebula. Google it, or M42, and you’ll see what we mean! You can see the colorful, swirling clouds of gas that make up the nebula, along with thousands of newborn stars.

It’s called M42 because it’s the 42nd thing on Charles Messier’s list of fuzzy things in the night sky that aren’t comets. He was a comet hunter, you see, and he wanted to avoid things that weren’t comets!

I delight in showing M42 to guests at the various outreach events that I do. It’s 1,350 light years away and visible in the wintertime in, you guessed it, the constellation Orion. I call it the Cosmic Flower for the way it looks in my telescope.

The Orion Nebula has been admired by humans for hundreds of years, but even today we’re uncovering new secrets.

Using the ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, astronomers have captured a spectacular new image of it. It’s so good that they used it to measure the brightness and color of all the stars and were able to calculate their precise ages.

It turns out that while these stars were indeed all born from the same cloud, the Orion Nebula, there are actually three different groups. There are 2 possible reasons for this.

  1. There could be unseen binary companions with exotic mass ratio distributions.
  2. It could be that each group formed at a different time.

The second possibility is simpler, so Occam’s Razor suggests that this is the case.

We can’t rule out the unseen binaries just yet, but an independent high-resolution spectroscopy study suggests that there were 3 individual episodes of star formation, separated by about a million years.

The group also found that each of the three different generations spin at different speeds — the youngest stars have the most energy and spin the fastest, while the oldest stars spin the slowest. This is in agreement with observations of other star forming regions.

So, while these stars are all siblings from the same “mother” nebula, they appear to be different ages! The ages are close together, though, spanning only 3 million years. My brother & I are only a year and a half apart, so it happens in the best of families!

Hey, Here’s A Cool Fact:
It also appears that the star formation has been progressing in a direction away from Earth. The youngest group of stars is the farthest away from us. So it’s like a wave of star formation has progressed through the Orion Molecular Cloud!

The survey program was called the Accretion Discs in Hα with OmegaCAM. It got the delightful acronym ADHOC!

Who says astronomers don’t have a sense of humor!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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