A spectacular imagery of Orion Nebula has been captured by the wide-field optical camera, OmegaCAM mounted on ESO's VLT Survey Telescope (VST), presenting a minutely detailed version of cluster of young stars.
The Orion Nebula is an enormous star-forming region located about 1,350 light-years from Earth. The stars formed as the clouds of gas is collasped within and when the ultraviolet radiation from these stars ionizes the gas around them, it causes nebula to glow giving it a beautiful structure.
A team led by ESO astronomer Giacomo Beccari used analysed this data of unparallelled quality from the imagery produced from optical camera to measure the brightness and and colours of all the stars in the Orion Nebula Cluster, that further allowed them to determine the mass and ages of the stars.
"Looking at the data for the first time was one of those 'Wow!' moments that happen only once or twice in an astronomer's lifetime," says Beccari. "The incredible quality of the OmegaCAM images revealed without any doubt that we were seeing three distinct populations of stars in the central parts of Orion."
Monika Petr-Gotzens, co-author and also based at ESO Garching, continues, "This is highly significant. What we are witnessing is that the stars of a cluster at the beginning of their lives didn't form altogether simultaneously. This may mean that our understanding of how stars form in clusters needs to be modified."
"Although we cannot yet formally disprove the possibility that these stars are binaries, it seems much more natural to accept that what we see are three generations of stars that formed in succession, within less than three million years", concludes Beccari.
The new results strongly suggest that star formation in the Orion Nebula Cluster is proceeding in bursts, and more quickly than had been previously thought.