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Life, Unbounded

Life, Unbounded

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Deserving of a quick post is a series of extraordinary time-lapse movies showing the complex motion of jets of matter expelled from baby-stars. Followed for more than ten years by the Hubble Space Telescope these systems are some 1,300 light years from us. These proto-stellar objects are just a few millions of years into their growth, surrounded by dense disks of gas and dust the rapidly spinning central stellar infants (not yet compressed enough to initiate full-blown hydrogen fusion in their cores) squirt out jets of matter moving at hundreds of thousands of kilometers and hour. These are most likely channeled and accelerated through magnetic fields generated by the inner disks and the forming stars.

Three examples of the structures produced as high velocity material in proto-stellar jets collides with surrounding interstellar matter, producing "bow-shocks" as the supersonic jets crash into their surroundings.

As the jets plow out into interstellar space the hot particles dump out their kinetic energy as photons of light. Colliding and smashing like water sloshing down a slide this hot matter also pushes into the surrounding nebula out of which the stars formed. It’s an amazing phase in the life-cycle of stars, and coincides with the first steps towards the coagulation of planetary bodies in the rich disks of material surrounding them.

Below is one of the time-lapse movies showing the jet from the proto-star Herbig-Haro 34, in Orion. This stitched together footage spans a total of thirteen years, from 1994 to 2007.


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NASA, ESA, P. Hartigan (Rice University), G. Bacon (STScI)

Caleb A. Scharf About the Author: Caleb Scharf is the director of Columbia University's multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center. He has worked in the fields of observational cosmology, X-ray astronomy, and more recently exoplanetary science. His books include Gravity's Engines (2012) and The Copernicus Complex (2014) (both from Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) Follow on Twitter @caleb_scharf.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. eurotimbr 10:42 pm 09/3/2011

    I’m not getting the link to the video.

    Link to this

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