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New Hubble Image Reveals Details in the Heart of the Trifid Nebula

Three huge intersecting dark lanes of interstellar dust make the Trifid Nebula one of the most recognizable and striking star birth regions in the night sky. The dust, silhoutted against glowing gas and illuminated by starlight, cradles the bright stars at the heart of the Trifid Nebula. This nebula, also known as Messier 20 and NGC 6514, lies within our own Milky Way Galaxy about 9,000 light-years (2,700 parsecs) from Earth, in the constellation Sagittarius.

Place mouse over image to remove detail boxes.

The group of bright O-type stars at the center of the Trifid illuminates a dense pillar of gas and dust, seen to the right of the center of the image, producing a bright rim on the side facing the stars. At the upper left tip of this pillar, there is a complex filamentary structure. This wispy structure has a bluish color because it is made up of glowing oxygen gas that is evaporating into space.

Star formation is no longer occurring in the immediate vicinity of the conspicuous group of bright O-type stars, because their intense radiation has blown away the gas and dust from which stars are made. However, not far away there are signs of interstellar material collapsing under its own gravity, leading to ongoing star formation. One such example is a very young star that is still surrounded by a ring of gas and dust left over from the star's formation. These circumstellar rings, called protoplanetary disks, or "proplyds" for short, are believed to be the locations where planetary systems are formed. A proplyd in the Trifid Nebula is visible near the lower right of the main Hubble image. An image enlargement of the proplyd is shown in the lower left box, where its elongated shape can be seen.

Place mouse over image to see small changes in the jet from Hubble images taken in 1997 (brighter) and 2002 (fainter).

1997 Trifid jet crtedit: NASA, ESA, and J. Hester (ASU); 2002 Trifid jet credit:
NASA, ESA, The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA /STScI) and F. Yusef-Zadeh (Northwestern U.)

In the box at upper right, a jet of material is seen being ejected from a very young, low-mass star. The jet, extending to the lower right of the box, protrudes from the head of a dense pillar and extends three-quarters of a light-year out into the surrounding thin gas. The jet's source is a very young stellar object that lies buried within the pillar. Previous Hubble images of the Trifid Nebula, taken in 1997, show very small, but noticeable changes in the knotty material being ejected from this jet. Accompanying the jet is a nearby stalk that points directly toward the central stars in the Trifid Nebula. This finger-like stalk is similar to the large pillars of gas in the well-known Eagle Nebula, also imaged by Hubble.

Zoom Into The Trifid Nebula

The video zooms into the Hubble Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 image of the heart of the Trifid Nebula. The zoom starts by looking at the Sagittarius constellation in the night sky and dissolves into the Lagoon Nebula. The video then goes deeper into the sky to show the Trifid Nebula, with the star birth region appearing as the final spectacular image.

Sagittarius Constellation
A. Fujii
Lagoon Nebula
D. Malin (AAO)
Trifid Nebula