Chaos! Turbulence! Blowouts! Herschel!

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May 10, 2010
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Herschel is a European space-based astronomical observatory. It launched last year, and the first science papers are now being published. Along with those papers, the European Space Agency released a bunch of way cool pictures.

As usual, I could use up a mole of electrons describing them, but one in particular caught my eye:


Egads! Click it to embiggen. This shows a swath of sky in the (northern hemisphere) summer constellation of Aquila, the Eagle. Aquila lies in the plane of the Milky Way galaxy, and when you look in that direction what you see is a mess of gas clouds littered with dust, and it just so happens a lot of this junk is busily forming stars. Herschel is sensitive to the far infrared, way outside what our eyes can see, so to its eye this region is aglow with warm dust and star birth.

But take a look at the blue structure at the lower left, the part shaped like a slightly tilted U. As soon as I saw it, I knew what it was: a blowout.

When stars form, they tend to start up a wind of material blowing off their surface, like a solar wind dialed up to 11. If these stars are inside a dense cloud they'll plow up the surrounding material, creating a cavity. If they're near the edge of that cloud, one side of the cavity will pop, creating a blowout. That's what you're seeing here: a pile of stars announcing their presence to the universe by kicking a hole in the wall of their nursery.

I remember my own daughter wailing and kicking in the minutes after she was born. When a baby has a mass measuring in the octillions of tons, its kick is somewhat more substantial.

If you want to see more of what this infrared observatory has delivered, the ESA has provided a nifty map of the galaxy with some interesting observed spots indicated:


The Universe looks pretty different at hundreds of times the wavelength we can perceive with our eyes. Check it out.

Credit: ESA/Hi-GAL Consortium

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