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Kepler's first view of planet hunting territory

...NASA's Kepler spacecraft has opened its eyes and blinked at the rich star field where it will search for extraterrestrial planets like Earth...

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Four-way cosmic

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...Combining images from space- and ground-based telescopes, astronomers have revealed the first cosmic collision of four separate galaxy clusters...

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Hubble witnesses flaring in black

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STS-120 day 2 highlights

Flight Day 2 of Discovery's mission focused on heat shield inspections. This movie shows the day's highlights.


STS-120 day 1 highlights

The highlights from shuttle Discovery's launch day are packaged into this movie.


STS-118: Highlights

The STS-118 crew, including Barbara Morgan, narrates its mission highlights film and answers questions in this post-flight presentation.

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 Mission film

STS-120: Rollout to pad

Space shuttle Discovery rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and travels to launch pad 39A for its STS-120 mission.


Dawn leaves Earth

NASA's Dawn space probe launches aboard a Delta 2-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral to explore two worlds in the asteroid belt.

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Dawn: Launch preview

These briefings preview the launch and science objectives of NASA's Dawn asteroid orbiter.

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Infant stars run wild in Orion nursery



Posted: 20 April, 2009

The Great Nebula of Orion, M42, has been revealed to be a madhouse, containing hundreds of very young stars in close proximity, with powerful jets emanating from their poles and racing away at tens or even hundreds of kilometres per second.

The Orion Nebula. Image: UKIRT.

The research is being presented today at the RAS' National Astronomy Meeting at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science held at the University of Hertfordshire. A triumvirate of observatories including NASA's infrared-seeing Spitzer Space Telescope, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii and the IRAM millimetre-wave telescope in Spain supplied the vital data for the project, which was the brainchild of Dr Chris Davis.

Based at the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hawaii, and spurred on by mid-infrared images of M42 taken by UKIRT, Davis proceeded to contact colleagues at the other observatories to collate as much data as possible. From IRAM came detailed maps of molecular dust and gas in the vast Orion Molecular Cloud (OMC) that rings the eponymous constellation, and which M42 is only a tiny part of. Meanwhile, recent catalogues of young stars in the OMC came from Spitzer, which can see through the thick veils of gas and dust. Comparing all this data with archival images from the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain, Davis was able to measure the speed and direction of 110 jets blasting out from young stars, and even pinpoint the exact stars that these jets are emanating from.

A close-up view of one of the jets, in red. Young stars in the era can be seen in orange. Image: WFCAM/UKIRT.

Young protostars produce powerful jets of hydrogen molecules simply because they are taking on more material from the surrounding nebula and protoplanetary disc than they can swallow. Such accretion is the nourishment that helps young stars grow. The waste material is spewed out in giant jets, which over time will fizzle out as the amount of raw gas in the vicinity dries up.

"Regions like this are usually referred to as stellar nurseries, but we have shown that this one is not being well run," says Davis. "It is chaotic and overcrowded."