On Dec. 17, 2015, NASA captured pictures of a newborn star as its force awakened; just in time for Star Wars VII. To NASA, the brilliant, glowing beams of light resemble lightsabers in battle, reports USA Today. NASA’s Hubble telescope photographed the dust-shrouded protostar as it projected bright, dagger-like prisms into space, announcing its birth to the universe, similar to the one shown in the Milky Way image above.
The newborn star was not born in a galaxy far, far away. Instead, its stellar nursery resides inside the Milky Way galaxy, only 1,350 light-years from Earth. The Orion B molecular cloud complex is a common birthing space for new stars.
Stars form in interstellar dust and gas clouds known as nebulae and are prevalent in spiral galaxies. These so-called nurseries are where gravitational collapse causes particles of dust and gas to compress, forming a rotating pearl of energy. The mass from this energy emits radio waves and infrared radiation, which cools the pearl. It is then further compressed by the gravitational forces and pressure waves from a supernova or hot gasses released from bright, nearby stars. The gibbous energy pearl continues to collapse and rotate for 10,000 to 1,000,000 years.
As the temperature and pressure increase, the spinning action of energy creates a centrifugal force that forms a flattened protoplanetary disk of dust, says Enchanted Learning. The center of this spiral mass becomes the star. In time, the protoplanetary disk could coalesce into planets that orbit around the star.
The protostar is now formed as friction from the contracting cloud continues to heat the core, making it glow for approximately 50 million years. When the temperature nears 27,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit, nuclear fusion begins. The radiation that is produced prevents further contraction.
According to USA Today, NASA photos of this protostar were taken using infrared light. This type of technology enables the Hubble telescope to see past the thick clouds of gas surrounding the newborn star and capture its force as it awakens. What causes the intense light show a protostar displays are jets of radiation projected into the surrounding matter. Shock fronts form along the edges of these jets, heating the surrounding material. Tangled knots of nebulosity are collectively called Herbig-Haro (HH) objects. The heated debris glows brightly with brilliant colors that can span over a trillion miles long and travel at 500,000 miles per hour. It is believed that these jets are focused by the magnetic field of the star.
According to Popular Science Magazine, further studies of young stars and their stellar jets are the perfect targets for NASA’s forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope. This new equipment has more advanced infrared wavelength vision that will enable it to peer through the thick dust surrounding new-forming stars.
The Enchanted Learning website claims that a star’s lifespan depends on its overall mass. Stars like Earth’s sun can live for approximately 10 billion years, whereas stars weighing 20 times the weight of Earth’s sun will live only 10 million years.
It is no coincidence that NASA released its “Lightsaber” photo on the eve of the Star Wars VII premiere, says Popular Science Magazine. Astronaut John Grunsfeld believes that science fiction such as Star Wars has inspired scientists and engineers for centuries. The discoveries that emerge from the Hubble Space Telescope help demystify the universe and motivate the mind to want to see and learn more. Perhaps in time, and with the help of the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, there will be more spectacular photos captured as newborn stars awaken and display their magnificent force.
The following video, published by GeoBeats News, shows the images captured by the Hubble telescope:
By Rowena Portch
Enchanted Learning: The Birth of a Star
Time Magazine: Star-Wars 7 NASA Hubble Force Awakens
USA Today: NASA Spies Lightsaber Space
Image Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License