ALMA Telescopes Zoom 1,350 Light-Years into Space
If you’ve always wanted to soar through the cosmos, buckle up. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) — a grouping of radio wave telescopes in Chile — have given astronomers and space-enthusiasts a tour through the Orion constellation like none other.
The video seen above begins with a broad view of the sky and then takes off into Orion, which is known to be the nearest region of massive star formation to Earth. That makes this area of space particularly interesting to astronomers studying stellar evolution.
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The final stop of the ALMA telescopes’ journey through the universe is at a rectangular section of the Orion Nebula 1,350 light-years away from Earth. This patch of space is a breeding ground for newborn stars.
The wisps of red gas seen running horizontally across the image are long clouds of cold gas, which are only visible to millimeter wavelength telescopes like ALMA. This crimson river of gas will slowly clump and compress together until it collapses under the force of its own gravity, giving life to protostars — the first stage of stellar evolution.
To the far left, you’ll see bright blue-white light that was picked up by the ESO’s Very Large Telescope, which is also based in Chile. This azure swath of sky is known as the Trapezium Cluster, found deep in the heart of the Orion Nebula. This is a fairly young group of stars that could be only a few million years old. Astronomers can estimate the age of these stellar masses by how brightly they burn.
Not only has ALMA given us the rollercoaster ride through the universe we’ve always wanted, but it has given astronomers a glimpse of the early stages of stellar evolution.
These discoveries can unravel hints of how the sun and our solar system came to be long ago.