Monday, January 4, 2010

Born in Beauty: Proplyds in the Orion Nebula

ScienceDaily (Dec. 30, 2009) — A collection of 30 never-before-released images of embryonic planetary systems in the Orion Nebula are the highlight of the longest single Hubble Space Telescope project ever dedicated to the topic of star and planet formation. Also known as proplyds, or protoplanetary discs, these modest blobs surrounding baby stars are shedding light on the mechanism behind planet formation.

Looking like a graceful watercolour painting, the Orion Nebula is one of the most photogenic objects in space and one of the Hubble Space Telescope's favourite targets. As newborn stars emerge from the nebula's mixture of gas and dust, protoplanetary discs, also known as proplyds, form around them: the centre of the spinning disc heats up and becomes a new star, but remnants around the outskirts of the disc attract other bits of dust and clump together. Proplyds are thought to be young planetary systems in the making. In an ambitious survey of the familiar nebula using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), researchers have discovered 42 protoplanetary discs.

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