Sunday, April 4, 2010

Star formation in the Orion nebula

This infrared image of the Orion nebula was acquired by the Spitzer Space Telescope in May 2009. The nebula is a gravitating cloud of gas and dust where stars form via collapse of the nebula gas. The bright region at the center is the Trapezium cluster where the hottest and most massive stars have formed. The radiation emitted by these hot stars is also sculpts the cloud by blowing gas and dust out of the cluster. Over time, this loss of gas will over the next few million years ultimately destroy the cluster, because it also reduces the cluster's gravitational binding energy, which then allows the young stars forming within to escape the cluster and join the Milky Way galaxy. Although you can't tell from this particular image, many of the stars forming here also have disks of dust and gas in orbit about them, and these circumstellar disks where planets might also form. See this Spitzer press release for more info.