Celestial Tour: Birthplace of Destruction—The Orion Trapezium Cluster

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Giving birth to stars is a thankless job.

Star-Forming Nebulas
Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Sonoma State University
All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA, ESA, and STScI except:
  • Image of reflection nebula NGC 1788 courtesy of T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), H. Schweiker (WIYN and NOAO/AURA/NSF) & S. Pakzad (NOAO/AURA/NSF)
  • Taurus constellation drawing from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory
  • Orion constellation photo courtesy of Akira Fujii
  • Illustration of circumstellar disk and jets courtesy of ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser
  • Image of HH 34 jets courtesy of ESO
  • Star-formation animation courtesy of Aimei Kutt (Brown University/STScI)
  • Written by Vanessa Thomas
  • Designed by John Godfrey

Text, Birthplace of destruction. 
An image of a pale blue nebula, a massive cloud of dust filled with brightly glowing white, blue, and yellow stars. Text, giving birth to stars is a thankless job. As payment for its celestial handiwork, a star forming nebula is deformed and often destroyed by the very stars it birthed. 
At first, the young stars seem to honor their mother clouds by lighting them up and making them glow. 
An animation of moving through the clouds and stars of a reddish nebula. Text, But all the while, their energetic output is pushing away and eroding the surrounding gas and dust. 
Astronomers have observed an example of stars destroying their mother nebulae in the constellation Orion. The constellation Orion in the night sky, a circle around the sword hanging from his belt. 
The Orion Nebula is ruled by a gang of adolescent stellar bullies known as the Trapezium. 
Within the pinkish yellow clouds of a nebula, a cluster of stars. Text, the largest Trapezium stars terrorize their surroundings with harsh ultraviolet radiation and streams of charged particles called stellar winds. All stars, including our sun, produce stellar winds, but these massive Trapezium stars have especially strong and destructive winds. 
As the Trapezium's winds flow outward, they push away material, creating voids and arcs in the surrounding gas. An arc of reddish cloud with a gap beside it. Text, When the winds of the Trapezium stars collide with those of smaller stars in the orion nebula, the confrontation can form a bow shock around the smaller star. 
Two small stars in a nebula with a curve of light around it. Text, here two stars have bough shocks around them facing the trapezium. 
Scathing ultraviolet radiation from the trapezium is also making life tough for some younger stars still trying to get their start. 
Tiny stars in the clouds of the nebula. 
Text, The tufts of material from which these baby stars are trying to form are being scorched and eaten away by the Trapezium's fierce radiation. An animation of light cupping around a forming star and clouds of matter blowing away from it. A ring of clouds swirls around the bright point. Text, Even if the budding stars survive this torture, the searing radiation could strip away their ability to raise a family of planets by vaporizing their planet forming material. The spinning cloud dissipates and disappears. 
Text, Young stars, however, can fire back in catastrophic ways. A bright blue star shooting a jet of streaming reddish clouds. Text, For reasons not fully understood, some of the material falling onto a growing star gets rerouted and shot out from the star's pole in narrow beams called jets. 
An illustration of a ring of clouds around a very bright star which shoots streams of light vertically. 
Text, Where jets and nebula collide, bright glowing clumps and bough shocks form. Clumps of greenish clouds and bright bough-shaped formations around stars. Text, as these jets push outward, they sweep up the surrounding material and plow a trench in the nebula. 
A burst of expanding white clouds. 
As new stars continue to blossom in the Orion Nebula, its gas will keep being sculpted and blasted away by its stellar offspring. 
Eventually, though, the Trapezium stars will give up their reign of terror on the nebula. With one final act of destruction, each massive star will explode as a supernova. 
An animation of the bright white stars expanding and bursting. Text, However, their explosive shock waves could squeeze nearby clouds of gas, likely sparking a new generation of stars that carry on the Trapezium's destructive legacy. An animation of points of light glowing in a cloud of red gas. 
Text, The winds and radiation from the Trapezium's stellar descendants could ultimately carry out the nebula's complete annihilation. Clouds spin rapidly around a central bright star which expands and bursts into white light.