Astronomers using ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, have obtained a vivid close-up view of material streaming away from a newborn star.

By looking at the glow coming from carbon monoxide molecules in an object called Herbig-Haro 46/47 they have discovered that its jets are even more energetic than previously thought. The very detailed new images have also revealed a previously unknown jet pointing in a totally different direction.

Young stars are violent objects that eject material at speeds as high as 1-million kilometres per hour. When this material crashes into the surrounding gas it glows, creating a Herbig-Haro object.

A spectacular example is named Herbig-Haro 46/47 and is situated about 1 400 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sails). This object was the target of a study using ALMA during the Early Science phase, while the telescope was still under construction and well before the array was completed.

The new images reveal fine detail in two jets, one coming towards Earth and one moving away. The receding jet was almost invisible in earlier pictures made in visible light, due to obscuration by the dust clouds surrounding the newborn star.

ALMA has not only provided much sharper images than earlier facilities but also allowed astronomers to measure how fast the glowing material is moving through space.

These new observations of Herbig-Haro 46/47 revealed that some of the ejected material had velocities much higher than had been measured before. This means the out-flowing gas carries much more energy and momentum than previously thought.

Team leader and first author of the new study, Héctor Arce of Yale University, explains: “ALMA’s exquisite sensitivity allows the detection of previously unseen features in this source, like this very fast outflow. It also seems to be a textbook example of a simple model where the molecular outflow is generated by a wide-angle wind from the young star.”

Picture credit: ESO/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/H. Arce. Acknowledgements: Bo Reipurth