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Secrets of Massive Star Birth

Hubble Space Telescope view of a turbulent cauldron of starbirth, called N159, taking place 170,000 light-years away in our satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). Torrential stellar winds from hot newborn massive stars within the nebula sculpt ridges, arcs, and filaments in the vast cloud, which is over 150 light-years across. A rare type of compact ionized "blob" is resolved for the first time to be a butterfly-shaped or "Papillon" (French for "butterfly") nebula, buried in the center of the maelstrom of glowing gases and dark dust. The unprecedented details of the structure of the Papillon, itself less than 2 light-years in size (about 2 arcseconds in the sky), are seen in the inset.



A possible explanation of this bipolar shape is the outflow of gas from massive stars (over 10 times the mass of our sun) hidden in the central absorption zone. Such stars are so hot that their radiation pressure halts the infall of gas and directs it away from the stars in two opposite directions. Presumably, a dense equatorial disk formed by matter still trying to fall in onto the stars focuses the outstreaming matter into the bipolar directions. This observation is part of a search for young massive stars in the LMC. Rare are the cases where we can see massive stars so early after their birth.


Credit: M. Heydari-Malayeri (Paris Observatory) and NASA/ESA

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