Explosive outflows powered by the decay of non-hierarchical multiple systems of massive stars: Orion BN/KL

John Bally, Nathaniel J. Cunningham, Nickolas Moeckel, Michael G. Burton, Nathan Smith, Adam Frank, Ake Nordlund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The explosive Becklin-Neugebauer (BN)/Kleinman-Low (KL) outflow emerging from OMC1 behind the Orion Nebula may have been powered by the dynamical decay of a non-hierarchical multiple system ∼500 years ago that ejected the massive stars I, BN, and source n, with velocities of about 10-30 km s -1. New proper-motion measurements of H2 features show that within the errors of measurement, the outflow originated from the site of stellar ejection. Combined with published data, these measurements indicate an outflow age of ∼500 years, similar to the time since stellar ejection. The total kinetic energy of the ejected stars and the outflow is about 2 to 6 × 1047 erg. It is proposed that the gravitational potential energy released by the formation of a short-period binary, most likely source I, resulted in stellar ejection and powered the outflow. A scenario is presented for the formation of a compact, non-hierarchical multiple star system, its decay into an ejected binary and two high-velocity stars, and launch of the outflow. Three mechanisms may have contributed to the explosion in the gas: (1) unbinding of the circumcluster envelope following stellar ejection, (2) disruption of circumstellar disks and high-speed expulsion of the resulting debris during the final stellar encounter, and (3) the release of stored magnetic energy. Plausible protostellar disk end envelope properties can produce the observed outflow mass, velocity, and kinetic energy distributions. The ejected stars may have acquired new disks by fall-back or Bondi-Hoyle accretion with axes roughly orthogonal to their velocities. The expulsion of gas and stars from OMC1 may have been driven by stellar interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2011


  • ISM: individual objects (M42, Orion Nebula, OMC1)
  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • Stars: formation
  • Stars: massive
  • Stars: protostars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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