Podcaster: Richard Drumm
Title: UNAWE Space Scoop – This one-winged cosmic butterfly holds a baby star
Organization: 365 Days Of Astronomy
Description: Space scoop, news for children.
By studying white dwarf stars, and finding some of them, well, in a way polluted, astronomers have found that most rocky exoplanets are made of rocks we can’t find anywhere in our Solar System.
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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.
Today’s story is…
This one-winged cosmic butterfly holds a baby star
Astronomers using the Gemini South Observatory in Chile have captured a stunning picture of a nebula in a relatively nearby region of our Milky Way.
There’s a picture of all this that you can see if you follow the link in the show notes.
This beautiful mix of dust and gas kinda looks like a butterfly with a single wing, and is known as the Chamaeleon Infrared Nebula.
This nebula is composed of gases emitting light in different wavelengths and lies close to the center of the gigantic Chamaeleon I dark cloud, one of the nearest star-forming regions in our galaxy.
It’s located in the constellation of the Chameleon, visible in the southern sky near the south celestial pole.
This constellation is perfectly named!
You see, some species of the the chameleon lizard hide in plain sight, being camouflaged by changing their coloration.
The constellation has no bright stars, its brightest being magnitude 4. It’s visible to the naked eye, but not what I’d call dazzlingly bright.
So it kinda, sorta hides too! Cool!
The bright point at the core of the Chamaeleon Infrared Nebula is a star less massive than our Sun.
So it’s a low-mass star, close to what would be the center, between the wings. There is a tiny bit of a second wing there so it isn’t completely one-winged.
This young, cool star spews huge amounts of gas, and it moves fast enough to kinda carve a tunnel of a sort inside the gas cloud from which the star is forming.
The nebula has its beautiful wing-like shape because its central star emits infrared and visible light that escapes the tunnel inside the cloud and scatters off its walls.
There’s a bright red smear on the right, close to the center.
It’s one of what astronomers call the Herbig-Haro, or HH objects, bright areas of nebulosity commonly found near newborn stars like we have here.
They form when fast-moving gas thrown out by stars smashes into slower-moving gas that’s part of the ISM, the interstellar medium of gas and dust.
This is exactly what happens with HH 909A, the red smear in the image.
Fast moving gas jets coming out of the poles of the star in the center of our one-winged butterfly collide with slower moving gas in the nebula around it.
Isn’t that amazing? It’s like a cosmic train wreck!
The background nebulosity in blue is just reflected light from a different nearby star.
The picture was produced by the Communication, Education & Engagement team of NOIRLab, the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory.
It’s part of the NOIRLab Legacy Imaging Program that was started at the Gemini Observatory 20 years ago.
Hey, here’s a cool fact!
American astronomer Sherburne Wesley Burnham was the first to observe a Herbig-Haro object in the late 1800s.
But these objects were just seen as a type of light-emitting nebula in the 1940s, when the American astronomer George Herbig and the Mexican astronomer Guillermo Haro Barraza studied them in detail.
But it was the Soviet astronomer Dr. Viktor Ambartsumian who first called these objects Herbig-Haro objects.
Thanks, Viktor! Credit where it’s due!
Thank you for listening to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast!
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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