Herbig-Haro object HH47, imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. The scale bar represents 1000 Astronomical Units, equivalent to about 20 times the size of our solar system, or 1000 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun
|Herbig-Haro objects are small patches of nebulosity associated with newly-born stars, and are formed when gas ejected by young stars collides with clouds of gas and dust nearby at speeds of several hundred kilometres per second. Herbig-Haro objects are ubiquitous in star-forming regions, and several are often seen around a single star, aligned along its rotational axis. HH objects are transient phenomena, lasting only a few thousand years at most. They can evolve visibly over quite short timescales as they move rapidly away from their parent star into the gas clouds in interstellar space (the interstellar medium or ISM). Hubble Space Telescope observations reveal complex evolution of HH objects over a few years, as parts of them fade while others brighten as they collide with clumpy material in the interstellar medium. The objects were first observed in the late 19th century by Sherburne Wesley Burnham, but were not recognised as being a distinct type of emission nebula until the 1940s. The first astronomers to study them in detail were George Herbig and Guillermo Haro, after whom they have been named. Herbig and Haro were working independently on studies of star formation when they first analysed Herbig-Haro objects, and recognised that they were a by-product of the star formation process.|
Images taken over five years reveal the motion of material in HH object HH47.
Over 400 individual HH objects or groups are now known. They are ubiquitous in star-forming H II regions, and are often found in large groups. They are typically observed near Bok globules (dark nebulae which contain very young stars) and often emanate from them. Frequently, several HH objects are seen near a single energy source, forming a string of objects along the line of the polar axis of the parent star.
The number of known HH objects has increased rapidly over the last few years, but is still thought to be a very small proportion of the total number existing in our galaxy. Estimates suggest that up to 150,000 exist, the vast majority of which are too far away to be resolved with current technological capabilities. Most HH objects lie within 0.5 parsecs of their parent star, with very few found more than 1 pc away. However, some are seen several parsecs away, perhaps implying that the interstellar medium is not very dense in their vicinity, allowing them to travel further from their source before dispersing.