Wayward Newborn Stars Fleeing from Their Birthplace
This dramatic view of the center of the Orion Nebula reveals the home of three speedy, wayward stars that were members of a now-defunct multiple-star system. The stellar grouping broke apart 500 years ago, flinging the three stars out of their birthplace.
The image, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, combines observations taken in visible light with the Advanced Camera for Surveys and in near-infrared light with the Wide Field Camera 3. A grouping of hefty, young stars, called the Trapezium Cluster, is at the center of the image. Several hundred stars are sprinkled throughout the image. Many of them appear red because their light is being scattered by dust.
The box just above the Trapezium Cluster outlines the location of the three stars. A Hubble close-up view of the stars is shown at top right. The birthplace of the multi-star system is marked "initial position." Two of the stars — labeled BN, for Becklin-Neugebauer, and "I," for source I — were discovered decades ago. Source I is embedded in thick dust and cannot be seen. The third star, "x," for source x, was recently discovered to have moved noticeably between 1998 and 2015, as shown in the inset image at bottom right. Source x is traveling at an unusually high speed of 130,000 miles per hour, which is 30 times faster than the velocity of most stars in the nebula.
Astronomers found the speedy source x by comparing observations taken in 1998 by the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer with those taken in 2015 by the Wide Field Camera 3. Hubble's discovery of the high velocity of source x has helped astronomers solve the long-standing mystery of how the stars BN and source I acquired their fast motions.