Dubbed “Mystic Mountain,” this is a detail from the extensive Carina Nebula.
In it, towers of cool hydrogen gas laced with dust are seen to rise along the nebula’s wall. At the top, a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust is being eaten away by the brilliant light and winds from nearby stars.
The pillar is also being pushed apart from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming left and right from the tips of the peaks.
Hubble’s infrared detectors have penetrated gigantic, turbulent clouds of gas and dust where tens of thousands of stars are bursting to life. Hubble views of these nebulas reveal a bizarre landscape sculpted by radiation from young, exceptionally bright stars.
The observations show that star birth is a violent process, producing intense ultraviolet radiation and shock fronts. The radiation clears out cavities in stellar nursery clouds and erodes material from giant gas pillars that are incubators for fledgling stars.
Hubble has also captured energetic jets of glowing gas from young stars in unprecedented detail. These jets are a byproduct of gas swirling into newly forming stars, some of which gets channeled by magnetic fields and shot from the poles of the spinning stars at supersonic speeds in opposing directions.
Because of Hubble’s long operational lifetime, astronomers have seen motion and changes in the shapes of these jets over time. Measuring and studying these changes are invaluable in trying to untangle the complicated physical processes that form them and to better understand the environment around newborn stars.