ALMA Captures Dramatic Stellar Fireworks

When scientists happen upon a rare explosion like this, it’s usually a sign of death — for a star that is. But, when peering into the dusty abyss of the Orion Nebula Complex, they discovered a totally different process inside the fiery explosion of a young star cluster.

In 2009, using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers from the European Space Agency found that about 100,000 years ago, the cluster began to form with protostars. Gravity kept them close, but two of them got too close and collided in a firework display of dust and gas. The event emitted more light than the sun emits in 10 million years.

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Bally/H. Drass et al.

The colors in the explosion represent the relative Doppler shifting of the millimetre-wavelength light that consists of carbon monoxide gas. The blue is attributed to the gas at highest speeds of about 5,580 mph and the red signals slower moving gases.

The explosion was so large it basically killed its parents, or the ‘parent cloud’ Orion Molecular Cloud 1 (OMC-1). This means that the explosion of new dust may play a role in regulating the formation of stars within the larger complex.

The remnants of the event will probably only last a few centuries, a blip on the cosmic timeline. But, we are able to see it as if it happened in the past few days because of how long it took the light to reach Earth, about 1,500 years to be exact.

Scientists will be using what they learned from this explosion to study star formation across the galaxy.

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