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A Star is Born

Note: This animation is optimized for Internet Explorer. If this does not work properly on your browser, click here for the original animated-GIF version.

On 23 January 2004, amateur astronomer Jay McNeil discovered a new nebula in Orion, near the existing nebula, M78. Here is an animation of the emergence and evolution of his find, constructed using images taken by a number of amateur astronomers over a period of time, including many images taken before Jay noticed the new nebula.

What we are witnessing here is apparently the actual birth of a star. The young would-be star had been gathering material for untold years, shrouded in a cocoon of dust and gas. Then, in a matter of just a few months, it has burst into brilliance, lighting up the cloud around it. This cloud is changing rapidly, and professional astronomers are eagerly pursuing follow-up observations of this rare event.

Here are links to Jay's original discovery image and a follow-up image:

2004-01-23 discovery image.
2004-02-03 follow-up Image.
See the BBC News article on Jay's discovery!
Animation source images...

The above animation was constructed with original images by the authors named below each of the images. These were registered to each other, cropped to focus on the new nebula, and then animated using JavaScript.

All images are copyright their original authors. The use of their work here is gratefully acknowledged.

Note also that these images were taken with widely varying equipment and filters. So while the above animation gives a good overall sense of the object's development, things such as absolute accuracy of brightness levels, for example, are not represented with any precision.