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The birth of star is just as traumatic as the birth of a person, only on a much larger scale.
For years, astronomers have known that newly formed stars fire powerful beams of gas into space called "protostellar jets." Because almost every young star forms these jets, astronomers have been desperate to get a better understanding of their evolution and their role in the star formation process. Until recently, however, astronomers had to be content with simple snapshots of the infant stars and their jets — not a great help when it comes to understanding how something moves.
Now, using pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope across more than a decade, my colleagues and I have been able to create movies of the jets.
Pat Hartigan of Rice University and I (along with other collaborators) produced movies that provide a new perspective on protostellar jets as they blast away from their newly formed stars. We can see the jets fragmenting and turning into clumps as they power through the surrounding interstellar material. We can also watch as they bore cavities through the interstellar gas. This kind of movie gives us insights into the formation of a star (such as how the jet might clear away falling gas) that was never possible before.
Adam Frank is an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester and a blogger for NPR's 13.7.