Hubble Spots Superhot Shockwave Coming From Running Man Nebula

The Hubble telescope has spotted a shockwave speeding away from a nebula 1,500 light-years from Earth.

The colorful blast is thought to be the result of material from a newborn star colliding with gas and dust at hundreds of miles per second, ionizing particles in its path.

An image of the cosmic shockwave was released by NASA on Wednesday. It shows a luminous blue and purple pattern emerging from the nebula NGC 1977—part of a complex of three nebulae collectively called the Running Man.

The shockwave observed by Hubble is known as a Herbig-Haro object. They occur during the creation of stars, which can be extremely energetic events.

When a star is born, material such as gas is drawn into its dense, fiery center. Other material ends up in a rapid orbit around the new star, known as an accretion disk.

While the emerging star is eating up all the gas around it, hot jets of material are also being blasted away from the star at extremely high speed.

Herbig-Haro objects are brightly colored emissions that occur whenever these hot jets interact with their surroundings to produce ionized—electrically charged—gas.

These objects can reach temperatures of around 17,500 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Swinburne Astronomy Online.

The Hubble telescope was trained on NGC 1977 specifically to look for stellar jets and disks around young stars to see how they evolve.

In addition to capturing a photo of the shockwave, the telescope also managed to capture a jet from a newborn star surging into the depths of NGC 1977.

NGC 1977 star
The Hubble photo showing the jet of light emitted from a new star in NGC 1977. The jet is thought to be around two light-years long. NASA / ESA / J. Bally University of Colorado at Boulder / DSS

According to NASA, the bright orange jet, which is more than two light-years long, is being emitted by a new star called Parengo 2042. Around this star is a disk that could eventually give rise to planets.

Scientists tend to look towards nebulae—vast clouds of gas and dust scattered throughout the universe—whenever they want to observe the formation of stars.

This is because they are prime environments for star creation. Over long periods of time, parts of these clouds tend to clump together, forming areas of greater mass than the surrounding cloud. This means they have more gravity, which in turn attracts more material and so on.

Eventually, the pressure and heat get so high that nuclear fusion begins and a star is born. According to NASA, some nebulae are known as "stellar nurseries" because of the role they play in the creation of stars.

NGC 1977 shockwave
The 'shockwave' emitted from NGC 1977. It is thought to have been caused by the birth of a star. NASA / ESA / J. Bally University of Colorado at Boulder / DSS