June 21, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

Hubble sees new triple star system

In a world that seems to be shifting focus from the Hubble Space Telescope to the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble still reminds us that it's there. Another striking image has been released showing the triple star system HP Tau, HP Tau G2 and HP Tau G3. The stars in this wonderful system are young, HP Tau, for example, is so young that it has not yet begun to fuse hydrogen and is only 10 million years old!

Hubble was launched in 1990 and has since revolutionized our understanding of the Universe. It orbits the Earth at an altitude of about 547 kilometers and from that position has provided us with impressive views of objects throughout the cosmos. It is about the size of a classic British double-decker bus and, inside, a 2.4m mirror. The mirror collects incoming light from distant objects before directing it to one of several instruments that record and analyze it.

Hubble space telescope
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope flies with Earth in the background after a servicing mission in 2002. Credit: NASA.

The recently released image shows a wonderful example of a reflection nebula 550 light years away in Taurus. These particular types of nebulae are made up of interstellar dust that reflects light from nearby stars, unlike emission nebulae that glow on their own. They have a characteristic blue hue due to the reflective properties of the powder. Looking at the image, you can easily imagine a hollowed-out cavity in the nebula that has been carved by young stars.

The triple stars at the heart of the system, HP Tau, HP Tau G2 and HP Tau G3, are young, hot stars. HP Tau is a type of variable star known as a T Tau star. They are a type of star that is less than 10 million years old and are named after the first star of this type discovered in Taurus. Identification is usually achieved by studies of their optical variability and strong lines in their chromosphere spectra. Given their young age, they are usually found still surrounded by the cloud of gas and dust from which they formed.

The amount of light emitted by HP Tau varies with time; However, this particular type of star tends to have regular and sometimes random fluctuations. The jury is still out on random variations, but it may be that the young nature of the stars leads to slightly chaotic processes as the stars begin to settle down. Perhaps material from an accretion disk that is still in the process of collapsing could dump material on the star and cause its flare.

Take a good look at the image and be sure to study the impressive patterns of nebulosity. Remember that the light that came out of this object traveled for 550 years before entering the optics of the Hubble Space Telescope. When Hubble turned his attention to HP Tau, he did so as part of research into protoplanetary disks. These disks are seen in many hot young stars and are believed to be the progenitors of planetary systems around the stars.

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