An artists impression of the green crystals falling down upon the star, almost like glitter. Picture: NASA/JPL
Further proof that space is amazing, this time from the not-too-distant constellation of Orion, where one star is currently being bombarded with green crystal rain.
The embryonic star is described as “Sun-like” – as in our Sun – and named HOPS-38.
The crystals are a green mineral called olivine and have been spotted raining down from the clouds of gas engulfing HOPS-68 by NASA’s Spitzer infrared detectors.
Olivine can be found on Earth, in gemstones and on the green sand beaches of Hawaii. They’ve also been spotted before by NASA’s Stardust and Deep Impact comet-watchers, but this is the first time they’ve ever been observed falling as “rain”.
“You need temperatures as hot as lava to make these crystals,” Tom Megeath of the University of Toledo in Ohio, said.
Prof Megeath is the principal investigator of the research and the second author of a new study appearing in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“We propose that the crystals were cooked up near the surface of the forming star, then carried up into the surrounding cloud where temperatures are much colder, and ultimately fell down again like glitter.”
Apart from the fact that they’re falling on a protostar, the crystals are unusual because they require temperatures around 700C to form, yet are found in the collapsing gas clouds around HOPS-38 where the mercury drops to around -170C.
The Toledo team say that jets of gas blasting away from the star might have lifted crystals into the clouds before raining back down.
If we ever make it to HOPS-38, we might even be able to see them.
“If you could somehow transport yourself inside this protostar’s collapsing gas cloud, it would be very dark,” the study team’s lead author Charles Poteet said.
“But the tiny crystals might catch whatever light is present, resulting in a green sparkle against a black, dusty backdrop.”
- NASA reveals spaceship for Mars journey – ‘ORION’ (theinformativereport.com)