Science & Technology

Hubble Space Telescope: An Enigmatic Astronomical Explosion

IRAS 05506+2414 imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Sahai

A bright young star is surrounded by a shroud of thick gas and dust in this stunning image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. To help astronomers understand the earliest stages in the lives of massive stars, Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) inspected a young stellar object, over 9,000 light-years away in the constellation Taurus. This object — which is known to astronomers as IRAS 05506+2414 — is thought to be an example of an explosive event caused by the disruption of a massive young star system. If so, it would only be the second such example known.

Usually, the swirling discs of material surrounding a young star are funneled into twin outflows of gas and dust from the star. In the case of IRAS 05506+2414, however, a fan-like spray of material traveling at velocities of up to 350 kilometers per second (780,000 miles per hour) is spreading outwards from the center of this image.

Astronomers turned to Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to measure the distance to IRAS 05506+2414. While it is possible to measure the velocity of material speeding outwards from the star, astronomers cannot tell how far from Earth the star actually is from a single observation. However, by measuring the distance that the outflow travels between successive images, they will be able to infer the distance to IRAS 05506+2414. This will allow astronomers to determine how bright the star is and how much energy it is emitting, and hence to estimate its mass — all vital information that will help to understand the origin of this bright young star’s unusual outflow.

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