May 4th is celebrated as Star Wars Day across the internet. We who do “serious science” have always enjoyed the fictional universes of books and films, but the crossover to our work has generally been tangential. But not always!
In December 2015, our news team jumped on the bandwagon and released an image with the headline “Hubble Sees the Force Awakening in a Newborn Star” (the first of the sequel trilogy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, premiered that week). I like to refer to this picture as the “celestial lightsabers” image, as it bears a good resemblance to Darth Maul’s double-bladed weapon. Hence, I can be fully justified in doing a Star Wars Day blog post about it.
Examine the image for a while. Try to comprehend that the scale is about 1 light-year (6 trillion miles) top to bottom. The twin jets of material are streaming across interstellar space at more than 100,000 miles an hour. It’s natural to wonder: how could this happen?
When a gas cloud collapses to form a star, some of the material condenses to the center and forms a disk. The disk is a simple result of the conservation of angular momentum, a.k.a. spin. ...