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"The wealth of information in this Hubble survey, including seeing stars of all sizes in one dense place, provides an extraordinary opportunity to study star formation," said observation leader Massimo Robberto of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore . "Our goal is to calculate the masses and ages for these young stars, so that we can map their history and get a general scenario of the star formation in that region. We can then sort the stars by mass and age and look for trends."
Orion is a perfect laboratory to study how stars are born, because it is 1,500 light-years away, a relatively short distance within our 100,000 light-year wide galaxy. Astronomers have a clear view into this crowded stellar maternity ward, because massive stars in the center of the nebula have blownout most of the dust and gas in which they formed, carving out a cavity in the dark cloud of gas and dust.
"In this bowl of stars we see the entire formation history of Orion printed into the features of the nebula: arcs, blobs, pillars, and rings of dust that resemble cigar smoke," Robberto said. "Each one tells a story of stellar winds from young stars that impact the environment and the material ejected from other stars. This appears to be a typical star-forming environment. Our sun may have been born 4.5 billion years ago in a cloud like this one."
This extensive study took 105 Hubble orbits to complete. All imaging instruments aboard the telescope were used simultaneously to study Orion. The Advanced Camera mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. The Space Telescope Science Institute conducts Hubble science operations. The Institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc.,Washington.