Radio Astronomers Peer Deep into the Stellar Nursery of the Orion Nebula

June 15, 2017
The first release of results from the Green Bank Ammonia Survey (GAS) are now being published in the Astrophysical Journal. A team from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, the University of Toronto and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics are aiming to map all Gould Belt star-forming regions visible from the northern hemisphere in the light of key molecular tracers. Accompanying the first data release, this impressive image shows ammonia molecules in a filament along a star formation region in the Orion Nebula.

“We still don’t understand in detail how large clouds of gas in our Galaxy collapse to form new stars,” says Rachel Friesen, one of the collaboration’s co-Principal Investigators and, until 31 May 2017, a Dunlap Fellow at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto. “But ammonia is an excellent tracer of dense, star-forming gas,” says Friesen, “and these large ammonia maps will allow us to track the motions and temperature of the densest gas. This is critical to assessing whether gas clouds and filaments are stable, or are undergoing collapse on their way to forming new stars.”

The image shows a star forming region in the Orion Nebula. The ammonia molecules were detected within a 50-light-year long filament through radio observations made with the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. That image is combined with an image of the Orion Nebula taken with NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explore (WISE) telescope.

"These data provide us with a unique view of the cold dense gas involved in forming stars like our Sun," said Jaime E Pineda, the collaboration’s other co-Principal Investigator from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. "With these observations we are working to determine how much rotation is present in these regions that will form stars, and this is crucial to understand how protoplanetary disks are formed."

The image accompanies the first release of results from the collaboration’s Green Bank Ammonia Survey (GAS), published in the Astrophysical Journal. The goal of GAS is to survey all the major, nearby star-forming regions in the northern half of the Gould Belt—a ring of young stars and gas clouds that circles the entire sky and runs through the constellation Orion. The survey will eventually provide a clearer picture over a larger portion of the sky of the temperatures and motions of gas within these dynamic stellar nurseries.

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