It’s a baby star! Combined observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the newly completed Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile have revealed the throes of stellar birth as never before in the well-studied object known as HH 46/47.
Herbig-Haro (HH) objects form when jets shot out by newborn stars collide with surrounding material, producing small, bright, nebulous regions. The dynamics within many HH objects are obscured by enveloping gas and dust. But the infrared and submillimeter wavelengths of light seen by Spitzer and ALMA, respectively, pierce the dark cosmic cloud around HH 46/47.
The Spitzer observations show twin supersonic jets emanating from the central star that blast away surrounding gas and set it alight into two bubbly lobes. HH 46/47 happens to sit on the edge of its enveloping cloud in such a way that the jets pass through two differing cosmic environments. The rightward jet, heading into the cloud, is plowing through a “wall” of material, while the leftward jet’s path out of the cloud is relatively unobstructed, passing through less material. This orientation serves scientists well by offering a handy compare-and-contrast setup for how the outflows from a developing star interact with their surroundings.
A team led by Hector Arce at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, carried out the ALMA observations, and their analysis was published recently in The Astrophysical Journal. ALMA is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with Chile.