Lying more than 4000 light years from our Solar System, the Lagoon Nebula (M8) is a place where new stars are forming. Researchers at the multinational Gemini South telescope are uncovering its secrets.
This dazzling portrait of a section of the Lagoon Nebula (M8) was captured by astronomers Julia Arias (Universidad de La Serena) and Rodolfo Barbá (Universidad de La Serena and ICATE-CONICET) with the 8 metre Gemini South telescope in Chile. We are looking at a stellar nursery; gas and dust draped over newborn stars. The image was made from a series of individual images taken through narrow-band optical filters sensitive to hydrogen (red in the final image), ionised sulphur (green in the image) emissions and far red light (blue in the image).
Stunning as may be, this image was created to help understand how stars form and evolve. In particular, this research aims to increase our knowledge of Herbig-Haro (HH) objects. Starbirth is not a gentle process; newly formed stars are prone to erupt as they grow, violently hurling jets of hot gaseous material into space at speeds of hundreds of kilometres per second. When these streams of matters (which can outweigh the Earth) slam into the surrounding nebula, the resulting shockwaves are visible from Earth as HH objects . Arias and Barbá have located a dozen HH objects in the image, ranging in size from about a trillion km (0.1 light year) across to 4.6 light years(1.4 light years), just a tad more than the distance from the Sun to its nearest stellar neighbours in the Alpha Centauri system. Our whole Solar System would be lost in the technicolor panorama above. The Universe is a big place.