NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope just captured the “bat shadow” of a moving newborn star, a view the space agency evocatively compared to a pair of flapping bat wings.
“The shadow moves. It flaps like the wings of a bird! Klaus Pontoppidan, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, and lead author of an article on the discovery in the Astrophysical Magazine, he said in a statement.
Called HBC 672 and located about 1,400 light years away in the Serpent Nebula, it is only one or two million years old, practically a baby in cosmic terms. It casts the shadow due to a deformed and widened disk that surrounds it.
“You have a star that is surrounded by a disk, and the disk is not like Saturn’s rings, it is not flat,” Pontoppidan explained. “It is swollen. And that means that if the light from the star is directed upwards, it can continue upwards, it is not blocked by anything. “
But if the ring blocks it, the light “doesn’t go out and cast a shadow,” he added.
The disk surrounding the young star is probably made of gas, dust, and rock and has two spikes at opposite ends, like a horse saddle. The light projected through this ring ends up looking like a pair of flapping wings.
The disk itself is too small and too far away for Hubble to directly observe, so the team had to resort to examining its massive shadow.
Astronomers suspect that a planet in the star’s orbit could warp and change the shape of the ring, and thus the motion of its shadow. Such a planet would take approximately 180 Earth days to surround its parent star.
The star may be extremely young, but its ring of rock and dust is huge. According to NASA, the size of the shadow alone would be hundreds of times the size of our entire solar system. It would take more than a month for the light to travel that distance.
By taking additional photos using filters, the team was able to create a beautiful color image of the star and its “bat shadow.”
READ MORE: Hubble sees cosmic flutter ‘Bat Shadow’ [NASA]
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