Friday, August 23, 2013

a star being born

I'm an amateur astronomer and own a relatively small 8" Schmidt Cassegrain telescope that allows views of the rings on Saturn, the giant red spot and four largest moons of Jupiter, the Ring nebula, and other deep sky objects from the comfort of home. Imagine then, an array of 66 radio telescopes, each the size of a house, linked together to provide 5 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) sits on a high mountaintop plateau in Chile. Located in one of the driest, and most isolated places on earth, ALMA has a clear, highly-detailed view into the universe. Becoming fully operational in March, one of ALMA's first observations is of a dense star -forming cloud of gas and dust located 1400 light years from Earth. On the edge of that cloud a star is forming and ALMA is giving us a ring-side view of the process.
Jets of hot gas shoot out from the igniting star at 1million kph
As the massive, dense cloud of gas and dust begins to collapse under gravity, the protostar begins to accrete a disc of that gas and dust which begins to spin and as the disc feeds the protostar, it ignites, sending jets of hot gas out into space at speeds up to one million kilometers per hour.

It's hard to conceptualize how far away the baby star is, so the staff at ALMA has provided us with a short video to make understanding easier.

video

The process of star formation has been theorized for quite some time, but only in the last few decades with more powerful telescopes like Hubble and ALMA to aid us, have we become able to observe the actual birth process of stars. 

Using time-lapse imaging from Hubble observations over a 14 year period we're able to see the process in action from a few different star forming regions.

video

One day it may be possible for humans to visit these star forming regions of space and view the process with our own own eyes. Until then,  ALMA and even more powerful telescopes that are planned or under construction will be the eyes to our dreams and the fuel for our aspirations.