With the latest Star Wars film still fresh in the cinemas, you may be starting to tire of the inexplicably endless marketing and press tie-ins. Breakfast cereals, clothing, even oranges (yes, really) have all been indelibly stamped with Star Wars branding. But Nasa is above this kind of shameless pop culture tie-in, right?
The unveiling of the above image was timed to coincide with the release of the Force Awakens because of its striking similarity to a lightsaber.
It pictures the birthing ground of a group of new stars called the Orion B molecular cloud complex. Located 1,350 lightyears away, the protostar is feeding on a rotating disc that encircles it. Shock fronts develop alongside the star, heating surrounding gas to thousands of degrees. When this gas collides with other pockets of gas and dust, the storm fronts form tangled knots of nebula known as Herbig-Haro (HH) objects.
Only a few HH objects are visible, with the Hubble capturing the image in infrared light. This allowed the telescope to see through the dust and gas that surround the object to capture a clear image.
“Science fiction has been an inspiration to generations of scientists and engineers, and Star Wars is no exception,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator at Nasa. “There is no stronger case for the motivational power of real science than the discoveries that come from the Hubble Space Telescope as it unravels the mysteries of the universe”.
It’s not the first time Nasa have happened upon some particularly well-timed imagery released to coincide with popular culture or holidays. In September 2011 Nasa revealed the discovery of a world described as similar to Star Wars’ Tattooine, and it regularly releases new images of the so-called ‘Witch Head Nebula’ around Halloween.