Hubble Captures a Maser in a Stellar Cradle

Astronomers working with the Hubble Telescope have released an image of a region of active star formation. This area is located 8,900 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Ara.
Protostellar object OH 339.88-1.26 (Hubble photo). Source: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. C. Tan (Chalmers Univ. & Univ. of Virginia)

The Hubble image reveals intricate patterns of dark dust, where the protostellar object OH 339.88-1.26 is concealed. The picture is also adorned with numerous bright stars, crowned with intersecting diffraction spikes (this optical effect is related to the design of the telescope itself).

The protostellar object OH 339.88-1.26 is a cosmic maser. The term “maser” is an acronym for “microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” Essentially, it’s a microwave laser generating coherent emission at microwave wavelengths. Such objects can occur in natural astrophysical conditions — from Jupiter’s North Pole to star-forming regions like the one depicted in the provided photo.

The image was taken during an observational campaign aimed at studying the nature of massive stars and testing theories of their formation. In this case, the subject of the investigation was the protostar G339.88-1.26, with a mass approximately 20 times that of the Sun. It is hidden within the central dusty clouds. To achieve this, astronomers utilized Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), as well as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).