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Scientists use ALMA to observe star-forming region

Stellar explosions are most often associated with supernova, the spectacular deaths of stars. But new ALMA observations of the Orion Nebula complex provide insights into explosions at the other end of the stellar life cycle, star birth. Picture: J. Bally/H. Drass

A team of astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to look into a star-forming region approximately 1,350 light-years away in the constellation Orion.

Known as the Orion Molecular Cloud 1 (OMC-1), the dense stellar nursery is part of the same complex as the well-known Orion Nebula.

The scientists observed an explosion in the region caused when two proto-stars that began forming inside it about 100,000 years ago impacted one another about 500 years ago as a result of gravity that rapidly pulled all the area’s stars close together.

Scientists are uncertain whether the impact was a graze or head-on collision between the stars. They do know it generated an explosion that hurled neighboring proto-stars as well as gas and dust into interstellar space at a speed greater than 93 miles (150 km) per second.

Our Sun would take 10 million years to generate the amount of energy the explosion produced.

Most stellar explosions observed by astronomers are supernovae that occur when massive stars die. In contrast, this one was generated by star birth and demonstrates that star formation can also be a violent process.

The image shows brightly colored streams of material that resemble fireworks traveling outward in all directions.

Colors in the photo reflect Doppler shifting of millimeter-wavelength light produced by carbon monoxide gas. Blue areas are those where the gas is traveling in our direction at high speeds while red areas are those with slow-moving gases headed toward us.

Optical and near-infrared images captured by the Gemini South and European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescopes were incorporated to depict the region’s background.

At the bottom of the photo, the Trapezium Cluster, an area of young, hot stars, is also visible.

Laurel Kornfeld

Laurel Kornfeld

Staff Writer
Laurel Kornfeld is a freelance writer and amateur astronomer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program.
About Laurel Kornfeld (1100 Articles)
Laurel Kornfeld is a freelance writer and amateur astronomer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program.