Lifting the veil on star formation in the Orion Nebula

Understanding how star formation interacts with the interstellar medium.


In a recent observation by NASA scientists using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), scientists found that the stellar wind from a newborn star in the Orion Nebula is preventing more new stars from forming nearby.

At the core of the cloud lies a small grouping of young, enormous and luminous stars. Observations from SOFIA’s instrument, the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, known as GREAT, uncovered that the strong stellar wind from the brightest of these baby stars, assigned Theta Orionis C (θ1 Ori C), has cleared up a large shell of material from the cloud where this star-shaped, similar to a snow plow clearing a path by pushing snow to the path’s edges.

Until now, scientists thought that other processes, such as exploding stars called supernovae, were largely responsible for regulating the formation of stars. But new findings suggest- the stellar wind from infant stars is responsible for regulating star formation.

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

Scientists took help of the GREAT instrument on SOFIA to measure the spectral line – which is like a chemical fingerprint – of ionized carbon. Using SOFIA’s airborne location, flying above 99 percent of the water vapor in the Earth‘s atmosphere that blocks infrared light, scientists were able to analyze the physical properties of the stellar wind.

They also used 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.

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