Zoom in on a certain collection of stars and dust near Orion’s belt, where one might attach a more civilized weapon, and you’ll see the birth pangs of a star — a cosmic lightsaber.
NASA is announcing today that the Hubble Space Telescope has photographed two jets of super-heated gas screaming out of a newborn star in what’s called the Orion B molecular cloud complex. This dual-blade lightsaber isn’t in a galaxy far, far away either. The newly photographed object is a mere 1,350 light-years (or 414 parsecs) away, shooting plasma into the void inside our own Milky Way.
Turning on a ligthsaber is a bit more violent when a star does it. When a cloud of star-fuel, like molecular hydrogen, gets big enough, gravity forces it to collapse. A protostar forms along with a disk of gas and dust that encircles it. As the star grows, its gravity pulls material from the disk to feed its appetite. The material that isn’t drawn into the star to be fused can spill away and shoot outwards along the axis on which the star spins.
But is this really a lightsaber as the Star Wars universe knows it? Well, if lightsabers are rings of plasma controlled by intense magnetic fields (and a bit of Force), then yes, the baby star fits the bill. Its dual jets are confined by magnetic fields and are many thousands of degrees Fahrenheit—let’s see two Jedi handle matter thrown at 100,000 miles per hour.
Right now, scientists have dubbed the messy birth place around these jets “HH 24,” or Herbig-Haro object 24, to denote that it is the kind of stellar structure formed after jets of gas smash into it. However, I think we can think of a better name…
How does DM 24 sound? Let us know in the comments below.
IMAGES: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI); Lucasfilm