A whirling cosmic jet

A space tornado is left in the wake of a cosmic jet ripping through the interstellar medium at about 100 miles per second.
By | Published: February 22, 2006 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
HH 49/50
Cosmic jet HH 49/50 appears as a glowing space tornado in this image taken by astronomers using the Spitzer Space Telescope.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / J. Bally (Univ. of Colorado)
February 22, 2006
Astronomers using the Spitzer Space Telescope captured this cosmic jet as it barges through interstellar space and creates a glowing tornado-like feature, designated Herbig-Haro 49/50. The jet’s source is the protostar located near the image’s top edge, not the central star in the image, which astronomers believe is probably unrelated.

The jet’s shock front parts clouds of gas and dust at a speed greater than 100 miles per second. Surrounding interstellar material is heated, causing it to glow in the infrared. Blue at the tornado’s tip likely is the result of high molecular excitation at the head of the shock wave. The twister’s triangular shape comes from the jet’s motion, just as a fast-moving boat leaves a wake behind it in water. HH 49/50 is located within the Chamaeleon 1 star-forming region.