IRAS 20324+4057 – WHAT THE HECK IS IT?!
Photo By: Composite from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and Isaac Newton Telescope. CLICK photo to see full size, links and fast facts below!
So here’s IRAS 20324+4057…..let’s start there. The Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) was a joint US, UK & Netherlands project to survey the sky centered on a few select microns (12, 25, 60 & 100) and came up with about a half-million results, thus, the IRAS catalog.
As far as the object itself, well it’s been dubbed the “Cosmic Caterpillar” though you may have a different interpretation of it like anything else in the cosmos. When we get down to the details however, it shows us that were looking at a proto-star or pre-star (Not to be confused with a pre-planetary or proto-planetary disk, though it may very well become one). A proto-star is simply a star in its cosmic cocoon, very early in its formation and transformation from ugly gas and dust to a beautiful shining star….which….is the same process that a REAL caterpillar encounters. When that young star hatches THEN we transition into the proto-planetary disk phase. That’s when the star’s leftovers form a ring-like structure around the new star, much of the material will be consumed by the star, much will be blown away but some of the material will accrete into planets, comets, asteroids etc.
So why does it look the way it does? About 15 light years off to the right hand side of this image is a neighborhood called the Cygnus OB2 Association. This is a group of approximately 565 stars in the constellation Cygnus (Where this object also resides). About 500 of these stars are luminous B-type stars while 65 of them are O-type stars which are of the brightest in the universe. Collectively this group of stars has a mass of about 30,000 times that of our Sun. Because of this, our light year long caterpillar friend is formed; the Cygnus OB2 association creates a massive amount of interstellar wind (ultraviolet radiation) and that wind is blasting away at and eroding the gas & dust shroud that’s attempting to create this new star. It’s hard to tell what the fate of this interaction will be but at this time (As we see it) the star is still accreting material quite heavily from its gas cocoon.
NAME: IRAS 20324+4057.
WHAT IS IT?: Proto-star or Pre-star.
HOW BIG IS IT?: About 1 light year long and the star, when finished is believed to be approximately one to ten times the mass of our Sun.
HOW FAR AWAY?: Approximately 4500 light years or 1380 parsecs.
APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: NA.
WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Cygnus as part of the Cygnus OB2 Association group of stars.
WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA: 20h 34m 14s.12 / Dec: +41° 08′ 03″.55.
NASA Hubblesite News Center page for this photo: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2013/35/image/a/
NASA page for this photo: http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/nasa-s-hubble-sees-a-cosmic-caterpillar/#.UibXEJvD9ok
Hubble Heritage Project page for this photo: http://heritage.stsci.edu/2013/35/
IRAS Information: http://irsa.ipac.caltech.edu/IRASdocs/iras.html
IRSA data page: http://irsa.ipac.caltech.edu/