Hubble Space Telescope Celebrates Independence Day with Spectacular Cosmic Fireworks Display

By Alexandra Burlacu , Jul 05, 2012 07:41 AM EDT

As millions of Americans celebrated Independence Day to commemorate their liberation from the British, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured a spectacular "celebration" as well: a geyser of gas fired off by a newborn star made a cosmic fireworks display in deep space. The amazing celestial display is the result of Herbig-Haro 110, i.e. a gas jet erupting from a distant star and bouncing off a dust cloud.

"Resembling a Fourth of July skyrocket, Herbig-Haro 110 is a geyser of hot gas from a newborn star that splashes up against and ricochets off the dense core of a cloud of molecular hydrogen," Hubble scientists said in a statement Tuesday, July 3, as cited by msnbc. "Although the plumes of gas look like whiffs of smoke, they are actually billions of times less dense than the smoke from a July 4 firework."

According to researchers, the gas plumes are incredibly long, spanning light-years, and seem sprinkled with swirling eddies and "bow shocks," i.e. round shockwaves resembling the waves at the bow of a boat. Herbig-Haro plumes are generally short-lived features of stars, and typically last roughly 100,000 years. They were named after astronomers George Herbig and Guillermo Haro, who studied the phenomena in the 1950s.

The objects are typically formed when a newborn star fires off super-hot gas in opposite directions. The Herbig-Haro 110 object, however, comes with a surprise: scientists cannot find the origin star that created the jet.

Following a detailed study, astronomers now believe the Herbig-Haro 110 jet was actually created by an entirely different gas plume, known as Herbig-Haro 270. As that other jet bounces of a cold, dense cloud of interstellar dust, it swirls back into space at a 60-degree angle, re-emerging from the cloud as Herbig-Haro 110, explained the researchers.

The Hubble Space Telescope, a joint mission between NASA and the European Space Agency, has been capturing breathtaking pictures of space and beaming them to Earth since its launch in 1990. In order to create the new view of Herbig-Haro 110, astronomers used the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope.

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