'Holy bat signal in space' as Hubble shows bat-shaped shadow

Christopher Davidson
November 3, 2018

The "wing" stretches roughly 200 times the length of our solar system, and unusual as it may sound, the shadow in fact sheds light on the location of HBC 672, which is too far from us to be seen by Hubble. The near-infrared vision of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured the shadow cast by the fledgling star's brilliant light being blocked by this disk. This image of a distant star is different, and the shadow it is casting isn't just neat to look at, but might actually reveal what is hiding in places that we can't see.

The presence of a shadow means that the disk is being viewed almost edge-on. The planetary system we live in once emerged from a similar protoplanetary disc when the Sun was only a few million years old.

The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted what officials from NASA and the European Space Agency have dubbed "a cosmic Bat Shadow" in a distant gas cloud, the Serpens Nebula. "The nebula envelops hundreds of young stars, many of which could also be in the process of forming planets in a protoplanetary disk", ESA added.

These colossal shadows on the Serpens Nebula are cast by the protoplanetary disc surrounding HBC 672.

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Whilst most of the shadow is completely opaque, scientists can look for colour differences along its edges, where some light gets through.

"By clinging tightly to the star the disk creates an imposing shadow, much larger than the disk". They can use the shape and color of the shadow to determine the size and composition of dust grains suspended in the disk. It's material like this that eventually coalesces to form planets, moons, and other objects like we see in our own Solar System. You can see the location of HBC 672 in the video below, along with its lighthouse-like shadows in the upper right of the final image. In a stellar nursery called the Serpens Nebula, almost 1,300 light-years away, a young ...

Most of the shadow is jet-black, but astronomers do see some color changes along the edges.

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