February 7, 2013
Hubble Telescope Captures Flashes Of Light From Protostar
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
[ Watch the Video: Light echoes from LRLL 54361 ]
Far away, on a protostar called LRLL 54361, a flashing light takes place every 25.34 days, like fireworks. New images and video released by NASA and taken by the Hubble show the cause of these fireworks can bee seen hidden behind a dense disc and an envelope of dust.
Astronomers believe the strobe effect is due to periodic interactions between two newly-formed stars that are gravitationally bound to each other. These stars drag material inward from a surrounding disc of gas and dust, and astronomers believe the light flashes seen are due to the material being dumped onto the growing stars as they near each others orbit.
“This protostar has large brightness variations with a precise period that it is very difficult to explain,” James Muzerolle of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, who has recently studied this fascinating object using Hubble and NASA´s Spitzer Space Telescope, said in a statement.
Hubble helped to uncover a movement of light away from the center of the system, which is an optical illusion known as a light echo. Although it looks as though eruptions of gas are coming out of the protostar, these pulses are flashes of light propagating through the surrounding dust and gas, and are reflecting toward the observer.
NASA says flashing double star systems, such as the one seen in these latest images, are rare because close binaries account for only a few percent of our galaxy's star population. The pulsing light is likely to be a brief phenomenon in the early life of a star, according to the space agency.
LRLL 54361 sits inside the star-forming region IC 348, located about 950 light-years away from Earth. In the monochromatic-color Hubble image, detailed structures around the protostar are seen, consisting of two cavities that are traced by light scattered off their edges above and below a disk.