A stellar explosion in Orion

When two young stars collide, spectacular fireworks result.

Cosmic fireworks produced by the collision of two stars in the Orion Molecular Cloud 1.
ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Bally/H. Drass et al.

The Orion Molecular Cloud 1 is dense, active cloud of gas near the Orion Nebula where many stars are formed. A star is born when a huge section of the cloud collapses under its own gravity and ignites to form a protostar. These protostars drift around within the densest regions of the cloud, where they may sometimes brush up against other baby stars.

The photo above shows the result of one such run-in between two protostars, which released as much energy as the Sun emits in 10 million years. These colossal streamers of gas and dust, captured by astronomers at the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array in the desert of northern Chile, extend almost a light-year from one end to the other. By studying distribution and motion of the streamers, the astronomers hope to understand the original collision in more detail.

Despite the streamers’ massive size, they are fleeting on an astronomical scale: within mere centuries they will have dissipated into the dusty background of the molecular cloud.

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Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
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