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  • richardmitnick 9:52 am on January 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Infant stars generate stellar winds that can blow away the seed material required to form new stars- a process called “feedback.”, , Orion Nebula, Stellar wind   

    From NASA/DLR SOFIA: “Lifting the Veil on Star Formation in the Orion Nebula” 

    From NASA/DLR SOFIA
    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    Orion Nebula M. Robberto NASA ESA Space Telescope Science Institute Hubble

    The stellar wind from a newborn star in the Orion Nebula is preventing more new stars from forming nearby, according to new research using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). These results were reported in the Jan. 7, 2019, issue of the journal Nature.

    This is surprising because until now, scientists thought that other processes, such as exploding stars called supernovae, were largely responsible for regulating the formation of stars. But SOFIA’s observations suggest that infant stars generate stellar winds that can blow away the seed material required to form new stars, a process called “feedback.”

    The Orion Nebula is among the best observed and most photographed objects in the night sky. It is the closest stellar nursery to Earth, and helps scientists explore how stars form. A veil of gas and dust makes this nebula extremely beautiful, but also shrouds the entire process of star birth from view. Fortunately, infrared light can pierce through this cloudy veil, allowing specialized observatories like SOFIA to reveal many of the star-formation secrets that would otherwise remain hidden.

    At the heart of the nebula lies a small grouping of young, massive and luminous stars. Observations from SOFIA’s instrument, the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, known as GREAT [image is below], revealed, for the first time, that the strong stellar wind from the brightest of these baby stars, designated Theta1 Orionis C (θ1 Ori C), has swept up a large shell of material from the cloud where this star formed, like a snow plow clearing a street by pushing snow to the road’s edges.

    “The wind is responsible for blowing an enormous bubble around the central stars,” explained Cornelia Pabst, a Ph.D. student at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and the lead author on the paper. “It disrupts the natal cloud and prevents the birth of new stars.”

    Researchers used the GREAT instrument on SOFIA to measure the spectral line – which is like a chemical fingerprint – of ionized carbon. Because of SOFIA’s airborne location, flying above 99 percent of the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere that blocks infrared light, researchers were able to study the physical properties of the stellar wind.

    “Astronomers use GREAT like a police officer uses a radar gun,” explained Alexander Tielens, an astronomer at Leiden Observatory and a senior scientist on the paper. “The radar bounces off your car, and the signal tells the officer if you’re speeding.”

    Similarly, astronomers use the ionized carbon’s spectral signature to determine the speed of the gas at all positions across the nebula and study the interactions between massive stars and the clouds where they were born. The signal is so strong that it reveals critical details and nuances of the stellar nurseries that are otherwise hidden. But this signal can only be detected with specialized instruments — like GREAT— that can study far-infrared light.

    At the center of the Orion Nebula, the stellar wind from θ1 Ori C forms a bubble and disrupts star birth in its neighborhood. At the same time, it pushes molecular gas to the edges of the bubble, creating new regions of dense material where future stars might form.

    These feedback effects regulate the physical conditions of the nebula, influence the star formation activity, and ultimately drive the evolution of the interstellar medium, the space between stars filled with gas and dust. Understanding how star formation interacts with the interstellar medium is key to understanding the origins of the stars we see today, and those that may form in the future.

    NASA SOFIA GREAT [German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies]

    NASA SOFIA High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus HAWC+ Camera

    NASA/SOFIA Forcast

    See the full article here .

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    SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 106-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Hangar 703, in Palmdale, California.
    NASA image

    DLR Bloc

     
  • richardmitnick 8:53 am on February 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Orion Nebula   

    From EarthSky: “Somber Betelgeuse in Orion’s shoulder” 

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    EarthSky

    February 11, 2018

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    Tonight, look for ruddy-hued Betelgeuse, one of the sky’s most famous stars. Kids especially like Betelgeuse, because its name sounds so much like beetle juice. The movie by that same name perpetuated this pronunciation.

    But astronomers pronounce it differently. We say BET-el-jews.

    People have described this star as somber or sometimes even grandfatherly. That may be because of Betelgeuse’s ruddy complexion, which, as a matter of fact, indicates that this star is well into the autumn of its years.

    Betelgeuse is no ordinary red star. It’s a magnificently rare red supergiant. According to Professor Jim Kaler – whose website Stars you should check out – there might be only one red supergiant star like Betelgeuse for every million or so stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

    At this time of year, Betelgeuse’s constellation – Orion the Hunter – ascends to its highest point in the heavens around 8 to 9 p.m. local time – that’s the time on your clock no matter where you are on the globe – with the Hunter symbolically reaching the height of his powers.

    As night passes – with Earth turning eastward under the stars – Orion has his inevitable fall, shifting lower in the sky by late evening.

    Orion slowly heads westward throughout the late evening hours and plunges beneath the western horizon in the wee hours after midnight.

    Orion Nebula ESO/VLT

    Bottom line: The ruddy star Betelgeuse depicts Orion’s shoulder. In mid-February, Orion reaches his high point for the night around 8 to 9 p.m. local time.

    See the full article here .

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    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:48 am on January 24, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Orion Nebula   

    From EarthSky: “Orion Nebula is a place where new stars are being born” 

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    EarthSky

    January 23, 2018
    Bruce McClure

    Everything you need to know about the Orion Nebula. How to find it in your sky tonight. Plus … the science of this star factory in space.

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    Stefan Nilsson captured this image in southern Sweden on January 2, 2017. You can recognize the constellation Orion by his three Belt stars, three stars in a short, straight row. The Orion Nebula is that red fuzzy region in Orion’s Sword, hanging from the Belt.

    Many people are familiar with Orion, the most noticeable of all constellations. The three stars of Orion’s Belt jump out at you midway between Orion’s two brightest stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, which are two of the brightest stars in the sky. Once you find the Belt stars, you can also locate the Orion Nebula, otherwise known as M42, a stellar nursery where new stars are being born. Follow the links below to learn more about the Orion Nebula.

    How to locate the Orion Nebula.

    What science says about the Orion Nebula.

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    The three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row represent Orion’s Belt. A curved line of stars extending from the Belt represents Orion’s Sword. The Orion Nebula lies about midway down in the Sword of Orion. Image via Marian McGaffney.

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    Orion Nebula captured on February 5, 2016, by Scott MacNeill at Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown, Rhode Island. Scott said this image is a composite of 25 shots.

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    Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown, Rhode Island, USA.

    How to locate the Orion Nebula. If you want to find this famous nebula, first you have to locate the constellation Orion. Fortunately, that’s easy, if you’re looking at the right time of year. The Northern Hemisphere winter months (Southern Hemisphere summer months) are the perfect time to come to know Orion.

    The constellation is noticeable for three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row. These stars represent Orion’s Belt.

    If you look closely, you’ll notice a curved line of stars “hanging” from the three Belt stars. These stars represent Orion’s Sword. Look for the Orion Nebula about midway down in the Sword of Orion.

    As a general rule, the higher the constellation Orion is in the sky, the easier it is to see the Orion Nebula. From Northern Hemisphere locations, Orion is due south and highest in the sky around midnight in middle December. The stars return to the same place in the sky some 4 minutes earlier each night, or 2 hours earlier each month. So look for Orion to be highest up around 10 p.m. in mid-January and 8 p.m. in mid-February.

    Another time people notice Orion is around the months of August and September, when this constellation appears in the east before dawn.

    Most nebulae – clouds of interstellar gas and dust – are difficult if not impossible to see with the unaided eye or even binoculars. But the Orion Nebula is in a class nearly all by itself. It’s visible to the unaided eye on a dark, moonless night. To me, it looks like a star encased in a globe of luminescent fog. The dark-sky aficionado Stephen James O’Meara described it as:

    … angel’s breath against a frosted sky.

    In a dark country sky, observe the Orion Nebula for yourself to see what it looks like. A backyard telescope, or even binoculars, do wonders to showcase one of the greatest celestial treasures in the winter sky.

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    This spectacular image of the Orion Nebula star-formation region was obtained from multiple exposures using the HAWK-I infrared camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. Image via ESO/H. Drass et al.

    ESO HAWK-I on the ESO VLT

    ESO VLT Platform at Cerro Paranal elevation 2,635 m (8,645 ft)

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    The Orion Nebula, 1,500 light years from Earth. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI.

    What science says about the Orion Nebula. According to modern astronomers, the Orion Nebula is an enormous cloud of gas and dust, one of many in our Milky Way galaxy. It lies roughly 1,300 light-years from Earth.

    At some 30 to 40 light-years in diameter, this great big nebulous cocoon is giving birth to perhaps a thousand stars. A young open star cluster, whose stars were born at the same time from a portion of the nebula and are still loosely bound by gravity, can be seen within the nebula. It is sometimes called the Orion Nebula Star Cluster. In 2012, an international team of astronomers suggested this cluster in the Orion Nebula might have a black hole at its heart.

    The four brightest stars in the Orion Nebula can be seen through amateur astronomers’ telescopes and are affectionately known as The Trapezium. The light of the young, hot Trapezium stars illuminate the Orion Nebula. These stars are only a million or so years old – babies on the scale of star lifetimes.

    But most of the stars in this emerging cluster are veiled behind the Orion Nebula itself, the great stellar nursery in Orion’s Sword.

    Orion Nebula’s position is Right Ascension: 5h 35.4m; Declination: 5o 27′ south

    Bottom line: To find the Orion Nebula in your night sky, look below Orion’s Belt. Your eye sees it as a tiny, hazy spot, but it’s a vast region of star formation.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

     
  • richardmitnick 6:48 pm on January 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Hubble Finds Substellar Objects in the Orion Nebula, , Orion Nebula   

    From Hubble: “Hubble Finds Substellar Objects in the Orion Nebula” 

    NASA Hubble Banner

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Jan 11, 2018

    Ann Jenkins
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4488
    jenkins@stsci.edu

    Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4514
    villard@stsci.edu

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    Release type: American Astronomical Society Meeting

    In an unprecedented deep survey for small, faint objects in the Orion Nebula, astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered the largest known population of brown dwarfs sprinkled among newborn stars. Looking in the vicinity of the survey stars, researchers not only found several very-low-mass brown dwarf companions, but also three giant planets. They even found an example of binary planets where two planets orbit each other in the absence of a parent star.

    Brown dwarfs are a strange class of celestial object that have masses so low that their cores never become hot enough to sustain nuclear fusion, which powers stars. Instead, brown dwarfs cool and fade as they age. Despite their low mass, brown dwarfs provide important clues to understanding how stars and planets form, and may be among the most common objects in our Milky Way galaxy.

    Located 1,350 light-years away, the Orion Nebula is a relatively nearby laboratory for studying the star formation process across a wide range, from opulent giant stars to diminutive red dwarf stars and elusive, faint brown dwarfs.

    This survey could only be done with Hubble’s exceptional resolution and infrared sensitivity.

    Because brown dwarfs are colder than stars, astronomers used Hubble to identify them by the presence of water in their atmospheres. “These are so cold that water vapor forms,” explained team lead Massimo Robberto of the Space Telescope Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “Water is a signature of substellar objects. It’s an amazing and very clear mark. As the masses get smaller, the stars become redder and fainter, and you need to view them in the infrared. And in infrared light, the most prominent feature is water.”

    But hot water vapor in the atmosphere of brown dwarfs cannot be easily seen from Earth’s surface, due to the absorbing effects of water vapor in our own atmosphere. Fortunately, Hubble is up above the atmosphere and has near-infrared vision that can easily spot water on distant worlds.

    The Hubble team identified 1,200 candidate reddish stars. They found that the stars split into two distinct populations: those with water, and those without. The bright ones with water were confirmed to be faint red dwarfs. The multitude of fainter water-rich, free-floating brown dwarfs and planets within the Orion nebula are all new discoveries. Many stars without water were also detected, and these are background stars in the Milky Way. Their light was reddened by passing through interstellar dust, and therefore not relevant to the team’s study.

    The team also looked for fainter, binary companions to these 1,200 reddish stars. Because they are so close to their primary stars, these companions are nearly impossible to discover using standard observing methods. But by using a unique, high-contrast imaging technique developed by Laurent Pueyo at the Space Telescope Science Institute, astronomers were able to resolve faint images of a large number of candidate companions.

    This first analysis did not allow Hubble astronomers to determine whether these objects orbit the brighter star or if their proximity in the Hubble image is a result of chance alignment. As a consequence, they are classified as candidates for now. However, the presence of water in their atmospheres indicates that most of them cannot be misaligned stars in the galactic background, and thus must be brown dwarfs or exoplanet companions.

    In all, the team found 17 candidate brown dwarf companions to red dwarf stars, one brown dwarf pair, and one brown dwarf with a planetary companion. The study also identified three potential planetary mass companions: one associated to a red dwarf, one to a brown dwarf, and one to another planet.

    “We experimented with a method, high-contrast imaging post processing, that astronomers have been relying on for years. We usually use it to look for very faint planets in the close vicinity of nearby stars, by painstakingly observing them one by one,” said Pueyo. “This time around, we decided to combine our algorithms with the ultra-stability of Hubble to inspect the vicinity of hundreds of very young stars in every single exposure obtained by the Orion survey. It turns out that even if we do not reach the deepest sensitivity for a single star, the sheer volume of our sample allowed us to obtain an unprecedented statistical snapshot of young exoplanets and brown dwarf companions in Orion.”

    Combining the two unique techniques, imaging in the water filters and high-contrast image processing, the survey provided an unbiased sample of newly formed low-mass sources, both dispersed in the field and companions of other low-mass objects. “We could reprocess the entire Hubble archive and try to find jewels there,” Robberto said.

    The team will present its results Thursday, Jan. 11, at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

    Finding the signatures of low-mass stars and their companions will become much more efficient with the launch of NASA’s infrared-sensitive James Webb Space Telescope in 2019.

    See the full article here .

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    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 7:26 am on June 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Messier 42 and Messier 43, , Orion Nebula, the Orion Nebula   

    From Manu: “Messier 42 and Messier 43, the Orion Nebula” 


    Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

    The universe around us.
    Astronomy, everything you wanted to know about our local universe and never dared to ask.

    6.14.17
    Hubble panoramic view of Orion Nebula reveals thousands of stars.

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    Messier 42 and Messier 43

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope NASA / ESA is offering an unprecedented look at the Orion Nebula.

    This turbulent star formation region is one of the most fantastic and photogenic celestial objects of astronomy.

    The sharp image reveals a tapestry of star formation, from the dense pillars of gas and dust that may be the homes of stars emerging to hot stars, young and massive stars that have emerged from their cocoons of gas and dust and are shaping the nebula with their powerful ultraviolet light.

    The new picture reveals large-scale structures never seen before, according to C. Robert O’Dell of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, United States. “Only with the Hubble Space Telescope can begin to understand them,” O’Dell said.

    In a mosaic containing a billion pixels, the Advanced Camera of Hubble images (ACS) uncovered 3,000 stars of various sizes. Some of them have never been seen in visible light. Some are merely 1/100 the brightness of stars seen previously in the nebula.

    Among the stars found in Hubble are possible young brown dwarfs, the first time these objects have been seen in the Orion Nebula in visible light. Brown dwarfs are so -called “failed stars”. These cool objects are too small to be ordinary stars because they can not sustain nuclear fusion in their cores as does our sun.

    The Hubble Space Telescope also saw for the first time a small population of possible binary brown dwarfs, two brown dwarfs orbiting each other. Comparing the characteristics of newborn stars and brown dwarfs in their natal environment provides unique information about how they form.

    “The wealth of information on this survey Hubble, including seeing stars of all sizes in one dense place, provides an extraordinary opportunity to study star formation,” said Massimo Robberto of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Institute Space Telescope science Baltimore, USA, and leader of the observations. “Our goal is to calculate the masses and ages for these young stars so that we can map their history and get a general census of the star formation in that region, we can sort the stars by mass and age and look for trends.”

    Robberto present its results on January 11 at the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington DC, USA

    The Orion Nebula is a perfect place to study how stars are born because it is 1,500, a relatively short distance within our galaxy 100,000 light years light years distant laboratory. Astronomers have a clear view into this crowded stellar maternity ward because massive stars in the center of the nebula have blown most of the dust and gas in which they formed, carving a cavity in the dark cloud.

    “In this bowl of stars we see the entire star formation history of Orion printed into the features of the nebula: arcs, blobs, pillars, and rings of dust that resemble cigar smoke,” said Robberto. “Each one tells a story of stellar winds from young stars that impact the stellar environment and the material ejected from other estrellas.Esto is a typical training environment estrellas.Nuestro Sun was probably born 4,500 million years ago in a cloud like this. ”

    This extensive study took 105 Hubble orbits to complete (each orbit takes 96 minutes). All imaging instruments aboard the telescope, the ACS, the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, and near infrared camera and multi-object spectrometer, were used simultaneously to study the nebula. The ACS mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.

    NASA/ESA Hubble ACS

    NASA/Hubble WFPC2. No longer in service.

    More comments on the Orion Nebula.

    The magnificent superior image offers a peek inside a cavern of dust and gas where thousands of stars are forming. The image, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard the Hubble Space Telescope , NASA / ESA represents the sharpest view ever seen of this region, called the Orion Nebula . More than 3,000 stars of various sizes appear in this image. Some of them have never been seen in visible light. These stars reside in a spooky landscape of dust and gas plateaus, mountains and valleys reminiscent of the Grand Canyon.

    The Orion Nebula is a picture book of star formation, from the massive, young stars that are shaping the nebula to the pillars of dense gas that may be the homes of budding stars is. The bright central region is home to the four strongest stars of the nebula. The stars are called Trapezium because they are arranged in a trapezoidal pattern. Triggered by ultraviolet light these stars is carving a cavity in the nebula and disrupting the growth of hundreds of smaller stars. Located near the Trapezium stars, the stars are still young enough to have discs of material around them . These discs are called protoplanetary disks and are too small to be clearly seen in this picture. The discs are the building blocks of solar systems.

    The bright glow on the top left is Messier 43 , a small region being shaped by the ultraviolet light of a young, massive star. Astronomers call the region a miniature Orion Nebula because only one star is sculpting the landscape. The Orion Nebula has four stars. Next to Messier 43 are dense, dark pillars of dust and gas pointing Trapeze. These pillars resist the erosion of the Trapezium intense ultraviolet light. The bright region on the right reveals arcs and bubbles formed when stellar winds – streams of charged particles ejected from the Trapezium stars – collide with material.

    The faint red stars near the bottom are numerous brown dwarfs that Hubble spied for the first time in the nebula in visible light. Sometimes called “failed stars,” brown dwarfs are cold objects that are too small to be ordinary stars because they can not sustain nuclear fusion in their cores as does our sun. The column dark red, below, left , shows an illuminated edge of the cavity wall.

    The Orion Nebula is 1,500 light years away, the star – forming region closest to Earth. Astronomers used 520 Hubble images, taken in five colors, to make this image. They also added land pictures to fill the nebula. The ACS mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.

    Orion observations were taken between 2004 and 2005.

    Notes

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

    Photo credit :
    NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Institute of Space / ESA Telescope Science) and Orion Hubble Space Telescope Treasury Project Team

    Published in Hubble on January 11, 2006.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:18 am on December 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Orion Nebula, Rigel   

    From EarthSky: “Focus on stars Betelgeuse and Rigel” 

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    EarthSky

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    Photo of the constellation Orion by Flickr user jpstanley

    Tonight … look for Orion the Hunter, one of the easiest constellations to identify in the night sky. Many constellations have a single bright star, but the majestic constellation Orion can boast of two: Rigel and Betelgeuse. You can’t miss these two brilliant beauties if you look eastward around 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. (your local time). Rigel and Betelgeuse reside on opposite sides of Orion’s Belt – three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row.

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    Rigel http://www.solarsystemquick.com/universe/rigel-star.htm

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    Betelgeuse https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTUC2HlLVdPrM6Ps_y2l_c9NqCgs8p7OFkyliDEy3JIyEZbscLw

    The star Rigel depicts Orion’s left foot. A blue-white supergiant and one of the most luminous stars known, it’s nearly 800 light-years away. If Rigel were as close as Sirius, the brightest star visible to the eye (and only about 8.6 light-years away), Rigel would shine much more brilliantly than Venus, our sky’s brightest planet.

    Betelgeuse – the other bright star in Orion – represents the Hunter’s right shoulder. A red supergiant, Betelgeuse is no slouch of a star either. In fact, if Betelgeuse replaced the sun in our solar system, its outer layers would extend past Earth and Mars and to nearly the orbit of Jupiter.

    On a dark night, when the moon has dropped out of the evening sky in the second half of December 2016, you might want to look at the magnificent Orion Nebula, or M42, the fuzzy patch in Orion’s Sword.

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    Orion Nebula. NASA/ESA Hubble

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    Image Credit: scalleja

    Bottom line: Many constellations have a bright star, but Orion has two: Rigel and Betelgeuse. You’ll also easily recognize Orion by its “Belt” stars, three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 5:29 am on July 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Orion Nebula   

    From ESO: “Deepest Ever Look into Orion” 

    ESO 50 Large

    European Southern Observatory

    12 July 2016
    Holger Drass
    Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile / Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
    Santiago / Bochum, Chile / Germany
    Email: hdrass@aiuc.puc.cl

    Amelia Bayo
    Universidad de Valparaíso / Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie
    Valparaíso / Königstuhl, Chile / Germany
    Email: amelia.bayo@uv.cl

    Richard Hook
    ESO Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
    Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
    Email: rhook@eso.org

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    ESO’s HAWK-I infrared instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile has been used to peer deeper into the heart of Orion Nebula than ever before. The spectacular picture reveals about ten times as many brown dwarfs and isolated planetary-mass objects than were previously known. This discovery poses challenges for the widely accepted scenario for Orion’s star formation history.

    An international team has made use of the power of the HAWK-I infrared instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) to produce the deepest and most comprehensive view of the Orion Nebula [1] to date. Not only has this led to an image of spectacular beauty, but it has revealed a great abundance of faint brown dwarfs and isolated planetary-mass objects. The very presence of these low-mass bodies provides an exciting insight into the history of star formation within the nebula itself.

    ESO HAWK-I
    ESO HAWK-I

    The famous Orion Nebula spans about 24 light-years within the constellation of Orion, and is visible from Earth with the naked eye, as a fuzzy patch in Orion’s sword. Some nebulae, like Orion, are strongly illuminated by ultraviolet radiation from the many hot stars born within them, such that the gas is ionised and glows brightly.

    The relative proximity of the Orion Nebula [2] makes it an ideal testbed to better understand the process and history of star formation, and to determine how many stars of different masses form.

    Amelia Bayo (Universidad de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile; Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie, Königstuhl, Germany), a co-author of the new paper and member of the research team, explains why this is important: “Understanding how many low-mass objects are found in the Orion Nebula is very important to constrain current theories of star formation. We now realise that the way these very low-mass objects form depends on their environment.”

    This new image has caused excitement because it reveals a unexpected wealth of very-low-mass objects, which in turn suggests that the Orion Nebula may be forming proportionally far more low-mass objects than closer and less active star formation regions.

    Astronomers count up how many objects of different masses form in regions like the Orion Nebula to try to understand the star-formation process [3]. Before this research the greatest number of objects were found with masses of about one quarter that of our Sun. The discovery of a plethora of new objects with masses far lower than this in the Orion Nebula has now created a second maximum at a much lower mass in the distribution of star counts.

    These observations also hint tantalisingly that the number of planet-sized objects might be far greater than previously thought. Whilst the technology to readily observe these objects does not exist yet, ESO’s future European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), scheduled to begin operations in 2024, is designed to pursue this as one of its goals.

    Lead scientist Holger Drass (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile) enthuses: “Our result feels to me like a glimpse into a new era of planet and star formation science. The huge number of free-floating planets at our current observational limit is giving me hope that we will discover a wealth of smaller Earth-sized planets with the E-ELT.”

    Notes

    [1] Nebulae such as the famous one in Orion are also known as H II regions to indicate that they contain ionised hydrogen. These immense clouds of interstellar gas are sites of star formation throughout the Universe.

    [2] The Orion Nebula is estimated to lie about 1350 light-years from Earth.

    [3] This information is used to create something called the Initial Mass Function (IMF) — a way of describing how many stars of different masses make up a stellar population at its birth. This provides an insight into the stellar population’s origins. In other words, determining an accurate IMF, and having a solid theory to explain the origin of the IMF is of fundamental importance in the study of star formation.

    More information

    This research was presented in a paper entitled The bimodal initial mass function in the Orion Nebula Cloud, by H. Drass et al., published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    The team is composed of H. Drass (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile), M. Haas (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany), R. Chini (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany; Universidad Católica del Norte, Antofagasta, Chile), A. Bayo (Universidad de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile; Max-Planck Institut für Astronomie, Königstuhl, Germany) , M. Hackstein (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany), V. Hoffmeister (Astronomisches Institut, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany), N. Godoy (Universidad de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile) and N. Vogt (Universidad de Valparaíso, Valparaíso, Chile).

    See the full article here .

    Another view:

    2
    In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured an unprecedented look at the Orion Nebula. … This extensive study took 105 Hubble orbits to complete. All imaging instruments aboard the telescope were used simultaneously to study Orion. The Advanced Camera mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.

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