April 7 (UPI) -- The chaotic nature of stellar birth often features explosive interactions. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array recently trained its gaze on one such interaction -- one that occurred 500 years ago.
The Orion Molecular Cloud is a large star-formation region located near the Orion Nebula, 1,500 light-years from Earth. Roughly 100,000 years ago, a pair of protostars drifted too close to one another and locked into a gravitational coupling.
The circling protostars pulled toward each other and finally collided some 500 years ago, triggering a violent explosion. The blast sent gas, dust, nearby protostars and stellar debris streaming in all directions.
The remnants of the explosive collision were photographed by ALMA and shared online this week.
"What we see in this once calm stellar nursery is a cosmic version of a 4th of July fireworks display, with giant streamers rocketing off in all directions," John Bally, an astronomer at the University of Colorado, said in a news release.
Not unlike protoplanetary disks, regions with high rates of star birth activity are often crowded. Collisions are inevitable, especially as protostars are pulled toward common centers of gravity. The resulting collisions clear out space, blowing away the molecular cloud and its star-forming materials. Scientists estimate the evidence of these explosions last just a few centuries.
"Though fleeting, protostellar explosions may be relatively common," said Bally. "By destroying their parent cloud, as we see in OMC-1, such explosions may also help to regulate the pace of star formation in these giant molecular clouds."
Researchers described the OMC-1 explosion in the Astrophysical Journal.