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News Release 118 of 168

November 9, 1999 01:00 PM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-1999-42

The Trifid Nebula: Stellar Sibling Rivalry

November 9, 1999: This Hubble telescope image of the Trifid Nebula reveals a stellar nursery being torn apart by radiation from a nearby, massive star. The picture also provides a peek at embryonic stars forming within an ill-fated cloud of dust and gas, which is destined to be eaten away by the glare from the massive neighbor. This stellar activity is a beautiful example of how the life cycles of stars like our Sun are intimately connected with their more powerful siblings.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. What's the dark, mountainous object that dominates this picture?

  2. This object is part of a dense cloud of dust and gas, a giant incubator for stars. These stars are forming deep within the cloud. At the tip of the stellar incubator are two wispy columns of gas. The thin, corkscrew-shaped line of gas pointing to the upper left is a stellar jet. The jet's source is a very young star buried within the cloud. This jet is the exhaust gas of star formation. The finger-like column of gas points directly toward the "hefty" star that powers the Trifid. This "finger" is a prominent example of the evaporating gaseous globules, or "EGGs," that were seen previously in the Eagle Nebula, another star-forming region photographed by Hubble.

  3. 2. Where is the massive star?

  4. This star resides beyond the top of this photograph, but its influence is visible. The glare from the "beefy" star is illuminating part of the cloud. This "glare" or radiation also is eating away the cloud. Many of the embryonic stars embedded in the cloud may not survive if their stellar incubator disappears, but it will take thousands of years for this to happen.

  5. 3. Where is this stellar nursery?

  6. The Trifid is about 9,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius.

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Credit: NASA and Jeff Hester (Arizona State University)