NASA // November 5, 2018
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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope Near-Infrared Vision – Prisoner Shadowcast
(NASA) – Shadows on Earth can be mysterious and unaware, but when they happen in space, they can convey information we would not otherwise know. In a starlike tract called Serpens Nebula, nearly 1,300 light-years away, the shadow play of a young star reveals secrets of his invisible, planet-forming disk. [NASA's Hubble Space Telescope's Near-Infrared View Conquered the Shadow] The sun-like star, called the HBC 672, is surrounded by a debris ring of dust, stone, and ice – a disk too small to even see Hubble. But like a small fly that falls into the beam of a flashlight shining on a wall, its shadow is projected large on the cloud in which it was born.
In this Hubble image, the feature – called "Bat Shadow" – is called. extends over 200 times the length of our solar system. It can be seen in the upper right part of the picture.
"This is an analogue of what the solar system looked like when it was only 1 or 2 million years old," explained Klaus Pontoppidan, an astronomer from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland. "As far as we know, the solar system once created a shadow like this."
The presence of a shadow means that the disk is almost viewed at the edge. This is something that could not otherwise be known, because the distance to us is too small to be seen by Hubble.
The shadow of the disc is similar to that of a cylindrical lampshade. Light emerges at the top and bottom of the screen, but along its circumference dark shadow cones form. Although the disc from which the shadow originates is a common object around young stars, the combination of a viewing angle on the edge and the surrounding nebula is rare.
Scientists can use the shadow to find out the shape of the disk. For example, they now know that the disc is bloated, which means that it is full of gas. While most of the shadow is completely opaque, scientists can look for color differences along the edges where some light comes through. You can use the shape and color of the shadow to determine the size and composition of the dust grains in the disk.
"These shadows are not easy to see in visible light, but the star disks and the shadows they project onto the environment are easily detected in infrared light," says Max Mutchler, research and instrument scientist at the STScI. "This infrared bat shadow reveals characteristics of both the small, dusty disk and the much larger nebula."
The shadow is an example of what the future James Webb space telescope can explore in even greater depth. "Webb's power lies in the ability to see into the dust and gas of these disks to understand the material that makes up these environments that make up planets," said scientist Alexandra Lockwood of STScI.
A similar-looking shadow phenomenon comes from another boy star in the upper left corner of the Hubble image. At the bottom right, a seemingly empty space is probably part of a foreground cloud. The light of the red binary in the cavity is partially blocked by this cloud.
The image is used in conjunction with NASA's Universum of Learning to illustrate how shadows can convey information about us invisible phenomena. This program creates materials and experiences that allow learners to explore the universe for themselves. NASA's universe of learning material is based on work supported by NASA under the NNX16AC65A price tag.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland is conducting Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities of Astronomical Research in Washington, DC
for more information on NASA's Universum of Learning.
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