When it comes to cool space pictures, supernovae get all the credit. After all, who doesn’t love a good star death? But new images from the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) in Chile reveal a stunning star birth that gives those supernova snaps a run for their money. It looks just like a firework, and now I have that godforsaken song stuck in my head, because the internet has rotted my brain.
According to the European Southern Observatory (ESO), a team of astronomers, led by John Bally from the University of Colorado, came across this fantastic display while observing the star-forming region known as Orion Molecular Cloud 1 (OMC-1). It’s part of the same complex as that Orion Nebula, roughly 1,350 lightyears from Earth.
Within the cloud, the team found the most incredible mess of debris from an collision between two baby stars. These youngsters are aptly called protostars, since their cores are not yet hot to undergo nucleosynthesis, the process by which stars make heavier elements and release energy. About 500 years ago, gravity drew the two protostars until they hit each other, although the researchers are not sure how direct of an impact it was. Regardless, the collision was so powerful—giving off as much energy as our Sun does in 10 million years—it sent other protostars, gas and dust streaming through space at 93 miles (150 km) per second. The team’s findings were published on January 10th in the Astrophysical Journal.
Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Bally/H. Drass et al.
Unfortunately, these fantastic displays are fleeting—they’re visible for few centuries and then they’re gone. In the time they’re around, however, their gas signatures can help scientists to further understand how these stellar explosions occur and how they shape the space around them. “Orion may be the prototype for a new class of stellar explosion responsible for luminous infrared transients in nearby galaxies,” the researchers wrote.