Press Release

Subaru Stares into a Cradle of Stars

By SpaceRef Editor
February 15, 2001
Filed under ,

Subaru Telescope Image of S106
Object Name: Star-formation Region S106 IRS4

Telescope: Subaru Telescope / Cassegrain Focus

Instrument: CISCO

Filter: J (1.25 micron), H (1.65 micron), K’ (2.15 micron)

Color: Blue (J), Green (H), Red (K’)

Date: UT 1999 May 25, June 5, 6

Exposure: 6 min (J), 4 min (H, K’)

Field of View: 5 arcmins

Orientation: North up, east left

Position: RA(J2000.0) = 20h27m, Dec(J2000.0) = +37d (Cygnus)

The Subaru Telescope has successfully taken a sharp and deep infrared image of
the star-forming region, S106. In addition, many objects with masses less
than that of an ordinary star have been discovered in this region.

S106 is at a distance of approximately 2000 light-years from the Earth. There
is a large massive star called IRS4 (Infrared Source 4) at the center of S106.
The star is approximately one hundred thousand years old, and its mass is
approximately 20 times that of the Sun. The hourglass appearance of S106 is
thought to be the result of the way material is flowing outwards from the
central star. A huge disk of gas and dust surrounding IRS4 produces the
constriction at the center.

Ultraviolet rays emitted from IRS4 ionize the surrounding hydrogen gas,
creating what astronomers call an HII region. As the excited hydrogen gas
relaxes, it emits the blue glow we see in the inner part of the nebula. We
call this an emission nebula. The red region towards the edge of the nebula
is a reflection nebula, made as surrounding dust particles directly reflect
the light emitted from IRS4. Since this infrared image is extremely sharp, we
can see subtle details like ripples inside the emission nebula. Furthermore,
the differences in color and structure between the emission and reflection
nebulae are beautifully displayed. In comparison, a visible-light image of
the same region taken with the Hubble Space Telescope barely shows any detail
in the upper part of the nebula because visible light is strongly absorbed by
the region’s dust.

A study of this deep S106 image has revealed hundreds of faint young objects
around IRS4 and throughout the surrounding nebula. The mass of these objects
is less than 0.08 times that of our Sun, too small to sustain the nuclear
burning of hydrogen gas that causes a normal star to shine. They are
considered to be young brown dwarfs.

The lightest and faintest objects discovered have an estimated mass of only
a few times that of Jupiter. A joint group of astronomers from the National
Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the University of Tokyo have observed
similar light objects elsewhere in the sky, in the nearby star-forming regions
towards the constellation of Taurus and Chameleon. Other researchers have seen
such objects in the constellation of Orion. While such objects would be called
“planets” if they orbited a star, this is not appropriate for these independent
objects. For this reason, we would refer to them as “floating small objects.”

From the observation with Subaru Telescope, it’s clear that many light objects
are born out in space along with the ordinary stars we see, and that the
relative number of such objects differs from place to place. The birth
mechanism for these objects is still unclear.

SpaceRef staff editor.