ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory has revealed the chemical fingerprints of potential life-enabling organic molecules in the Orion Nebula, a nearby stellar nursery in our Milky Way galaxy. This detailed spectrum — obtained with the Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI), one of Herschel’s three innovative instruments — demonstrates the gold mine of information that Herschel-HIFI will provide on how organic molecules form in space.
Several German Institutes contributed essential parts to the HIFI instrument: the Universität zu Kölkn and the Max-Planck-Institute für Radioastronmie, Bonn, und für Sonnensystemforschung, Lindau.
Striking features in the HIFI spectrum include a rich, dense pattern of “spikes,” each representing the emission of light from a specific molecule in the Orion Nebula. This nebula is known to be one of the most prolific chemical factories in space, although the full extent of its chemistry and the pathways for molecule formation are not well understood. By sifting through the pattern of spikes in this spectrum, astronomers have identified a few common molecules that appear everywhere in the spectrum. The identification of the many other emission lines is currently ongoing.
By clearly identifying the lines associated with the more common molecules, astronomers can then begin to tease out the signature of particularly interesting molecules that are the direct precursors to life-enabling molecules. A characteristic feature of the Orion spectrum is the spectral richness: among the molecules that can be identified in this spectrum are water, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, methanol, dimethyl ether, hydrogen cyanide, sulphur oxide, sulphur dioxide and their isotope analogues. It is expected that new organic molecules will also be identified.
“This HIFI spectrum, and the many more to come, will provide a virtual treasure trove of information regarding the overall chemical inventory and on how organics form in a region of active star formation. It harbours the promise of a deep understanding of the chemistry of space once we have the full spectral surveys available,” said Edwin Bergin of the University of Michigan, principal investigator of the HEXOS Key Programme on Herschel.
The Orion Nebula is about 1,500 light years away from Earth. At warp factor 5, the maximum speed of the Enterprise NX-01, it would take 12 years to get there. The Enterprise NCC-1701 at warp factor 8 could reach the Orian Nebula in either 1.4 years or about 3 years, depending on which warp speed calculation you use:
On the original series from the 1960s, Star Trek’s Warp 8 = 512 times the speed of light. It was a simple formula: Velocity = Warp Factor cubed times the speed of light.
Example: Warp 8 = 8 x 8 x 8 = 512
Star Trek – The Next Generation revised the formula so that Warp 8 = 1,024 times the speed of light.