Sci-Tech

See the explosion set off when two 'teenage' stars collide

Astronomers capture a detailed image of a few would-be suns crashing -- and tearing up the place they were born in the process.

Sausage making can be messy, but so is making stars.

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Bally; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); Gemini Observatory/AURA

When we think about exploding stars, we tend to think of dying stars going supernova in fantastic fashion, but the above composite image shows how things can also blow up in the stellar nursery where star births happen.

One of these star factories can be seen in the Orion Molecular Cloud 1 (OMC-1) just behind the Orion Nebula some 1,500 light-years away. About 500 years ago, two adolescent protostars there grazed or collided with each other and touched off an explosion that launched nearby stellar siblings and streams of dust and gas into space at half the speed of light.

"What we see in this once-calm stellar nursery is a cosmic version of a 4th of July fireworks display, with giant streamers rocketing off in all directions," University of Colorado Professor John Bally said in a statement. Bally is lead author of a paper on the explosion published in the Astrophysical Journal in March.

This cosmic crash let off as much energy as our sun puts out over the course of 10 million years, and the aftershocks can be seen today with telescopes like the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

"The colossal energy release from these events may contribute to the destruction of the star-formation environment and help explain how star-formation self-regulates," Bally said via email.

In other words, this may have been a blast big enough to shut down a factory too massive for most of us to really conceive. Which is actually convenient, because it would have taken a really long time for safety inspectors to get out there.

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