These Bubbles of Star Birth in the Milky Way’s Galactic Neighbor Look Spectacular!

A beautiful image of the Milky Way’s closest galactic neighbor provides insight into how stars form. Deep inside a bubble of star birth, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has captured an image of a jet of material emitted by a massive young star, the first time such a jet has been observed in visible light outside of the Milky Way.

Only about 160,000 light-years away from Earth, the Large Magellanic Cloud(LMC) is a massive dwarf galaxy making its first orbit around the our larger galaxy. As it falls into the Milky Way edge-on, the LMC’s spiral arm faces our own galaxy, giving astronomers the chance to probe star-forming regions. This image reveals LHA 120-N 180B (N180 B for short), a cloud of charged hydrogen that serves as a stellar nursery. Formed from dust and gas, the newborn stars give off light that ionizes the surrounding gas, stripping away its electrons, according to a statement from the observatory. The process has sculpted N180 B into a massive bubble surrounded by four smaller bubbles.

VLT’s Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument has spotted a jet of material spewing from a giant young star that has about 12 times the mass of the sun and sits tucked deep within the glowing cloud. Known as Herbig-Haro 1717, or HH 1177, the jet is nearly 33 light-years long, making it one of the longest such jets ever observed. Newborn stellar jets are usually obscured by dust, but the relatively dust-free environment of the LMC allowed scientists to make the first visible image of such a jet outside the galaxy.

But HH 1177 makes more than just a pretty picture. Jets like this are associated with the disks of material around their stars. As some material falls into the accretion disk around a star, other material is being shot outward at hundreds of kilometers per second. Herbig-Haro objects reveal where the material interacts with its surroundings to produce hot ionized gas.

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