Where Stars Are Born

The Orion Constelation.
(Image: A.Dupree, NASA, ESA  via NASA  cc 1.0)
The Orion Constelation. (Image: A.Dupree, NASA, ESA via NASA cc 1.0)

The birth of a human being has mystified humans throughout all ages and still does today, as it belongs to one of the most mysterious processes we are aware of in nature. What do a mothers womb and nebulas in outer space — like Orion Nebula, the Flame nebula, and the Horsehead Nebula — have in common?

You just need to raise your head to the night sky, where you will find enigmas just as deep and mysterious as those within you. Have you ever looked at the night sky and wondered how stars got there? How is a star created?

What we know about this question is actually mind blowing, because if compared to the natal development and birth, growth, and old age of a human being, stars seem to go through the same life cycle as we do.

They are born, they grow, and they get old, after which they eventually die. But they don’t go out just any old way. No, when a star reaches its final destination, literally — because despite the seemingly fixed position a star holds in the night sky, it is actually along with all other stars and galaxies in constant motion — but back to the final moments of a star.

When a star dies, it goes out with a big bang, scientifically called a supernova.

This is where it gets really interesting. It seems, in outer space, nothing is lost and nothing is wasted.

“The supernova, which marks the death of a massive star, seeds the galaxy with the heavy elements that eventually form rocky planets like the Earth, and are essential for life,” said Garry Fuller, an astronomer at the University of Manchester in England.

Apparently, our solar system was also formed from “the cumulative ashes of countless stars” and not just one.

To see is not to see

Just using a telescope to peer into the night sky, however, won’t be enough to get an insight into the so-called star-making factories out there.  The actual magic happens somewhat hidden to our eyes, or to be more precise, it takes place in a spectrum of the light that is outside the range of light’s frequencies visible to our naked eye.

Humanly Visible Spectrum: The small part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to human beings. (Image Credit: Johannes Ahlmann, via Flickr cc 2.0)

Humanly Visible Spectrum: The small part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to human beings. (Image: Johannes Ahlmann, via Flickr cc 2.0)

The popular images of nebulas we have become familiar with are obtained by overlaying multiple exposures using infrared cameras on very large telescopes, like the HAWK-I infrared camera on the ESO telescope in Chile.

Orion nebula

A lot of people are familiar with Orion, even if they are not really aware of it. Orion is the most noticeable of all constellations in the night sky, and is just 1,500 light years away from the blue planet we call home.

Orion's Belt: These three blue supergiant stars are hotter and much more massive than the Sun. Vision Times (Image Credit: Martin Mutti, Astronomical Image Data Archive, via NASA cc 1.0)

Orion’s Belt: These three blue supergiant stars are hotter and much more massive than our Sun.
 (Image: Martin Mutti, Astronomical Image Data Archive, via NASA cc 1.0)

The three stars of Orion’s Belt are clearly noticeable even to those with little to no knowledge of star constellations. The four brightest stars, known as the Trapezium, in the Orion Nebula can be viewed through an amateur astronomers’ telescope.

Once you find the Belt stars, you can also locate the Orion nebula, formally known as M42, a “stellar nursery where new stars are born.”

 

Star formation

Orion Nebula. (Image Credit: A.Dupree, NASA, ESA via NASA cc 1.0)

Orion Nebula. (Image: A.Dupree, NASA, ESA via NASA cc 1.0)

How are stars formed? Well, an easy way to put it is that as the clouds of dust — the nebulas — collapse, this causes the material at the center to gradually heat up. This hot core of the cloud is called a protostar; it is the heart of the collapsing cloud and will one day become a star.

Once born, so to say, the newly formed star is regarded as an infant star. One of the best documented star formation hotspots is the McNeil’s Nebula in the constellation of Orion.

So, what do a mother’s womb and nebulas in outer space, like Orion Nebula, the Flame Nebula, and the Horsehead Nebula, have in common?

They are all places where the wonder of creation takes place in this universe.

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