A Newly Formed Star Sprays Jets of Warm Water Vapors

A Newly Formed Star Sprays Jets of Warm Water Vapors

The researchers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory were able to make direct observations of jets of water vapor streaming away from a protostar.

There is a lot going on in our huge universe that can amaze you on any day of the week. Technological advancements have allowed us to explore more and more but we still can observe only a small fraction of the entire universe. The Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope has revolutionized our thinking about our surroundings by transforming the ways of observing the universe. We can now see those parts of the cosmos which were considered invisible a few years ago. The array of ALMA has a group of outstandingly precise antennas which enables it to study comparatively high-frequency radio waves (having a wavelength ranging from a few tenths of a millimeter to several millimeters).

According to a recent report, the scientists at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) pushed ALMA to its ultimate limit to harness the highest-frequency capabilities of the array. This led them to that part of the electromagnetic spectrum where the boundaries between the radio and the infrared waves start to fade away. Consequently, the researchers were able to discover jets of warm water vapor streaming away from a newly forming star. Brett McGuire, the Lead Author of the Paper who is a Chemist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, talked about the complexity of their work in the following words:

High-frequency radio observations like these are normally not possible from the ground. They require the extreme precision and sensitivity of ALMA, along with some of the driest and most stable atmospheric conditions that can be found on Earth.”

The highest-frequency, submillimeter vision of the ALMA was trained on a star-forming complex of the Cat’s Paw Nebula which is 4,300 light years away from our planet. This nebula, which is also known as NGC 6334l, have also been observed previously at lower frequencies. Those observations yielded a highly dynamic environment with turbulent star formation and a wealth of molecules.

This time around, higher frequencies were used for analyzing that part of our universe. The Band 10 of the ALMA was used for this purpose because its receivers are programmed to work at the highest frequency. The wavelengths covered by this band of the telescope lies in the range of 0.3-0.4 millimeters (quite similar to what we get with long-wavelength infrared light). This research provided some great insights into this natural phenomenon.

It was also regarded as one of the most challenging experiments due to the fact that direct observation of jets of water vapor streaming away from protostars was involved. The Band 10 of ALMA successfully detected the submillimeter-wavelength light which was emitted by ‘Heavy Water’. Crystal Brogan, an Astronomer at the NRAO and a Co-author of the study, said,

Normally, we wouldn’t be able to directly see this particular signal at all from the ground. Earth’s atmosphere, even at remarkably arid places, still contains enough water vapor to completely overwhelm this signal from any cosmic source. During exceptionally pristine conditions in the high Atacama Desert, however, ALMA can, in fact, detect that signal. This is something no other telescope on Earth can achieve.”

The scientists observed that the orientation of these jets suggests that there could be multiple jets emanating from the same area. Similarly, they found that the low-frequency water masers are flaring up upon colliding with the surrounding gases. The National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array complemented with this information. In addition to that, ALMA found something even more amazing thanks to its incredibly sensitive cosmic chemical sensor.

All the receiver bands of the ALMA telescope can detect the light emitted by the tumbling and vibration of the molecules in space. However, spectral lines at the highest frequencies provide significant information about important chemicals including heavy water. The information gathered from Band 10 allowed the researchers to locate a region which is amazingly rich in molecular fingerprints including the simplest sugar-related molecule called ‘Glycolaldehyde’. The scientists compared their findings with the previous best-in-the-world observations of the same source taken by the Herschel Space Observatory of the European Space Agency. The results showed that the ALMA had ten times more spectral lines. McGuire explained their findings by saying,

We detected a wealth of complex organic molecules surrounding this massive star-forming region. These results have been received with excitement by the astronomical community and show once again how ALMA will reshape our understanding of the universe.”

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