NASA spots incredible double lightsaber in a galaxy not far, far away

18 Dec 2015

An illustration of the birth of a star. Image via NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

If you thought everyone had exploited the Star Wars hype, think again, as NASA times its release of an incredible image of the birth of stars that looks kind of like a double lightsaber.

As it turns out, the double lightsaber is arguably a much cooler event on the scale of, you know, the universe, with NASA revealing that the two streams and gaseous cloud surrounding it is actually an interstellar star nursery called the Orion B molecular cloud complex, located 1,350 light years away.

This doesn’t mean that it exists in a galaxy far, far away, however, as its distance still includes it in our own Milky Way, allowing it to be captured with incredible beauty by the Hubble Space Telescope.

According to NASA, the lightsaber streaks being emitted from the cloud are referred to as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects, which are created when enormous shock fronts develop along the jets and heat the surrounding gas to thousands of degrees Fahrenheit, before colliding with the surrounding gas and dust to clear vast spaces.

NASA lightsaber

The ‘NASA lightsaber’ captured using infrared imagery. Image via NASA/ESA

Similar lightsaber-like HH objects can be spotted being emitted from the two smaller stars to the right of the gaseous cloud with one of them boring a hole through the cloud emitting again in the top right-hand corner of the picture.

Spotting these HH objects is quite rare, with just a handful of HH jets being spotted in this region in visible light with similar numbers captured using infrared imagery, which this one was achieved with.

“Science fiction has been an inspiration to generations of scientists and engineers, and the film series Star Wars is no exception,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission directorate.  “There is no stronger case for the motivational power of real science than the discoveries that come from the Hubble Space Telescope as it unravels the mysteries of the universe.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic