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  Orion "Proplyds" -- Infant Stars Peeking out from Their Covers


These images, taken through the HST's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, are each about 167 billion miles across or 30 times the diameter of our solar system. At the center of each is an infant star still partially enshrouded in a disk of gas and dust out of this it has recently formed. The disks range in size from two to eight times the size of our solar system and may indeed contain clumps of material that will someday condense into families of planets. Hubble's ability to bring us images of such "proplyds" or "protoplanertary disks" (that is, disks that may contain planets in the process of formation) have given astronomers important insight into solar systems develop and provide a glimpse of what our solar system might have looked like about 4.5 billion years ago. These proplyds are all located in M42 (also known as the Great Nebula in Orion) a giant cloud of gas and dust where many new stars are forming about 1500 light years from earth. You can see this region of the sky yourself this week ! Just look in the southern sky as soon as it gets dark. There you will find three stars of the same brightness in a straight line. Look just below these three stars (binoculars will help) for a small, milky patch of light. This is M42.

 
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