Herbig Haro stellar shockwaves captured by Hubble Space Telescope

Shockwaves generated by ejected mass from a newborn star hitting surrounding cosmic material have been imaged in exquisite detail.

Two Herbig-Haro objects can be seen in this Hubble Space Telescope image, catalogued as HH46 and HH47. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, B. Nisini

Have you ever heard of a Herbig-Haro object? These celestial phenomena are thin jets of cosmic matter floating among stars and gas, and are some of the most rarely seen night-sky sights.

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Two Herbig-Haro objects can be seen in this Hubble Space Telescope image, catalogued as HH46 and HH47.

These specimens were spotted in the Vela constellation just 1,400 lightyears from Earth: a cosmic stone’s throw.

Before 1997, astronomers including the US astronomer R.D. Schwartz believed that Herbig Haro objects might be a sort of nebula known as a reflection nebula, whereby clouds of gas and dust reflect the light of nearby stars, or else that they could be a sort of shock wave caused by gas ejected from a star hitting surrounding matter.

Astronomers were eventually able to settle the matter when they discovered a so-called protostar at the centre of these long jets.

It’s thought that mass was ejected from the newborn star at speeds of 150km per second, hitting the surrounding gas and generating the shockwaves seen in this image.

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Observatory Hubble Space Telescope

Release date 15 February 2021

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Image credit ESA/Hubble & NASA, B. Nisini