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Sunday, November 14, 1999 Published at 19:09 GMT


Hubble spies a doomed star

Lfe and death in a stellar nursery

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

This Hubble Space Telescope image of the Trifid Nebula shows a stellar nursery being torn apart by radiation from a nearby, massive star.

The picture also provides a glimpse of embryonic stars that are forming within the ill-fated cloud of dust and gas. These are destined to be eaten away by the radiation from their massive neighbour.

The Hubble image shows a small part of the Trifid nebula, a dense cloud of dust and gas about eight light-years away from the nebula's central star. The star is not in Hubble's view.

Rising star

A thin and wispy stellar jet protrudes from the head of the dense cloud and extends almost a light year into the cloud. The jet's source is a very young star that lies buried within the cloud.

Within the next 10,000 years the glare of the central, massive star will eat away at the nebula and destroy the forming star.

Another nearby star may have already faced this fate.

The Hubble picture shows a "stalk" pointing from the head of the dense cloud directly toward the star that powers the Trifid.

It is thought that the stalk has survived because at its tip there is a knot of gas that is dense enough to resist being eaten away by the powerful radiation.

The images were taken on 8 September 1997 through filters that isolate emission from hydrogen atoms, ionised sulphur atoms, and ionised oxygen atoms.

The images were combined in a single colour composite picture. While the resulting picture is not true colour, it is suggestive of what a human eye might see.

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