When I first saw these never-before-seen time-lapse videos—captured over the course of 14 years by the Hubble Space Telescope—I just couldn't believe my eyes. Hubble photos can be beautiful, but these videos just left me speechless.
The videos show stellar jets firing at 440,000 miles (770,000 kilometers) an hour. Stellar jets are a product of the creation of stars, something that happened to our very own Sun about 4.5 billion years ago.
The jets' nature, however, are still a mystery. While we know that they happen during the birth of the star, astronomers don't really know why, how and what is the role they play in the formation of the star itself.
The team of scientist—led by Patrick Hartigan, of Rice University in Houston, Texas—focused on some of the Herbig-Haro objects, which were studied for the first time in 1950 by George Herbig and Guillermo Haro. Located 1,350 light-years from Earth, these objects are near the Orion Nebula in the northern sky and the constellation Vela in the southern sky.
The results of their patient capture process are not only beautiful. They have given astronomers extraordinary insight that now will be incorporated into their computer simulation models.
In HH 2, for example, several bow shocks can be seen where several fast-moving clumps bunch up like cars in a traffic jam. In another jet, HH 34, a grouping of merged bow shocks reveals regions that brighten and fade over time as the heated material cools where the shocks intersect.
In other areas of the jets, bow shocks form from encounters with the surrounding dense gas cloud. In HH 1 a bow shock appears at the top of the jet as it grazes the edge of a dense gas cloud. New glowing knots of material also appear. These knots may represent gas from the cloud being swept up by the jet, just as a swift-flowing river pulls along mud from the shoreline.
One of the main revelations is that the jets are not continuous, but sporadic, "launched in clumps." These clumps may show scientists the rate at which these stars are created, as matter falls into the stars' core from the accretion disk, restarting the jet each time.
The jet phase takes about 100,000 years, so these 14-year time-lapse captures are just an insignificant fraction of that process. And still, they are absolutely beautiful and breathtaking. Just imagine the dimensions of those gas colums, spanning beyond their entire primitive solar system. [Hubble]
The song in the video is Staralfur. Get it on iTunes.