Maser Mystique: Hubble’s Gaze Into a Stellar Cradle

Protostellar Object OH 339.88-1.26

Hubble Space Telescope image of protostellar object OH 339.88-1.26, which lies 8,900 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ara. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Tan

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured an entrancing dust-filled image of the protostellar object OH 339.88-1.26. Located 8,900 light-years away in the constellation Ara. This image showcases winding lanes of dark dust intertwined with bright stars, their brilliance emphasized by crisscrossing diffraction spikes.

Unveiling the Secrets of OH 339.88-1.26

The dark vertical streak in the center of the image conceals OH 339.88-1.26, which is an astrophysical maser. A maser — which is an acronym for “microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” — is essentially a laser that produces coherent light at microwave wavelengths. These intriguing phenomena naturally arise in a range of astrophysical contexts, from the north pole of Jupiter to star-forming regions like the one depicted here.

Hubble’s Deep Dive into Star Formation

This image comes from a set of Hubble observations that peer into the hearts of regions where massive stars are born, with the goal of constraining the nature of massive protostars and testing theories of their formation. Astronomers turned to Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to explore five intermediate-mass protostars at infrared wavelengths.

The Hubble observations were supported by other state-of-the-art observatories including ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. ALMA is composed of 66 moveable high-precision antennas that can be arranged over distances of up to 16 kilometers (10 miles) on a plateau perched high in the Chilean Andes. Further data were contributed by the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), which is a telescope that — until recently — operated out of a converted 747 aircraft.

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