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Orion Veil

March 2, 2019

A brilliant young star in the Orion Nebula apparently doesn’t want any more brothers or sisters. It’s blowing an intense “wind” that’s clearing out much of the gas around it — pushing away the raw materials for making more stars.

The star is known by the somewhat clumsy name of Theta-1 Orionis C. It’s the heaviest member of the Trapezium — a cluster of hot, massive young stars. The star is many times heavier than the Sun, tens of thousands of degrees hotter, and hundreds of thousands of times brighter.

The Trapezium is at the center of the Orion Nebula, a giant stellar nursery more than 1300 light-years away. The nebula has given birth to thousands of stars, with many more still being born.

But the Trapezium itself is surrounded by the Orion Veil — a giant bubble with relatively little gas.

Astronomers recently studied the bubble with SOFIA, an airborne observatory. They found that Theta-1 Orionis C is blowing the bubble. Hot winds from its surface are causing the bubble to expand at about 30,000 miles per hour. The remaining gas inside the bubble is so sparse that there’s not much left for making more stars. But gas is piling up the bubble’s edge, which could trigger the birth of stars — far away from the Trapezium.

Orion is in the south as night falls right now. The Orion Nebula is visible to the unaided eye. It looks like a fuzzy star below Orion’s Belt. Binoculars will reveal the Trapezium, near the center of the nebula.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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