Astronomers get rare peek at early stage of star formation

Mar 14, 2012
New observations show 'pristine' example of second stage of star formation shown in this graphic. (Images not to scale.) CREDIT: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

(PhysOrg.com) -- Using radio and infrared telescopes, astronomers have obtained a first tantalizing look at a crucial early stage in star formation. The new observations promise to help scientists understand the early stages of a sequence of events through which a giant cloud of gas and dust collapses into dense cores that, in turn, form new stars.

The scientists studied a giant cloud about 770 light-years from Earth in the constellation Perseus. They used the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory and the National Science Foundation's Green Bank Telescope (GBT) to make detailed observations of a clump, containing nearly 100 times the , within that cloud.

Stars are formed, astronomers think, when such a cloud of gas and dust collapses gravitationally, first into clumps, then into dense cores, each of which can then begin to further collapse and form a young star. The details of how this happens are not well understood. One difficulty is that most regions where this process is underway already have formed stars nearby. Those stars affect subsequent nearby through their and when they explode as supernovae.

"We have found the first clear case of a clump of potentially star-forming gas that is on the verge of forming dense cores, and is unaffected by any nearby stars," said James Di Francesco, of the University of Victoria, Canada.

"Finding such a 'pristine' clump of gas that may be starting to form dense cores is a key to gaining a fuller understanding of the early stages of star formation," said Sarah Sadavoy, a graduate student also of the University of Victoria. "This is a rare find," she added.

The far-infrared images from the Herschel were obtained as part of the Herschel Gould Belt Survey key program. They revealed previously-unseen substructures within the clump that may be precursors to cores with the potential to form individual stars. The astronomers used the GBT to study the motions and temperatures of molecules, primarily ammonia, within these substructures. These GBT observations indicated that one of the substructures is likely to be gravitationally bound and thus farther along the path to condensing into a core than the others.

"This may be the first observation ever of a core precursor," DiFrancesco said.

The entire clump, the scientists say, could be expected to form about ten new stars.

"This region appears to be an excellent candidate for future core formation, and thus is an ideal area for additional studies that can help us understand how this process works without the triggering effect of winds from other stars and shocks from supernova explosions," Sadavoy said.

The scientists will publish their results in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Explore further: Experts and audience contest Pluto's 'dwarf planet' status

Related Stories

Herschel finds a hole in space

May 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA's Herschel infrared space telescope has made an unexpected discovery: a hole in space. The hole has provided astronomers with a surprising glimpse into the end of the star-forming process.

AKARI's view on birth and death of stars

Aug 28, 2006

AKARI, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) infrared astronomical satellite with ESA participation, is continuing its survey of the sky and its mapping of our cosmos in infrared light. New exciting ...

Young stars flicker amidst clouds of gas and dust

Feb 29, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Astronomers have spotted young stars in the Orion nebula changing right before their eyes, thanks to the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. ...

Stellar embryos

Jan 23, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Stars form as gravity coalesces the gas and dust in interstellar clouds until the material produces clumps dense enough to become stars. But precisely how this happens, and whether or not ...

Baby stars in the Rosette cloud

Apr 12, 2010

Herschel's latest image reveals the formation of previously unseen large stars, each one up to ten times the mass of our Sun. These are the stars that will influence where and how the next generation of stars ...

Recommended for you

Gravitational waves according to Planck

3 hours ago

Scientists of the Planck collaboration, and in particular the Trieste team, have conducted a series of in-depth checks on the discovery recently publicized by the Antarctic Observatory, which announced last spring that it ...

Infant solar system shows signs of windy weather

3 hours ago

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have observed what may be the first-ever signs of windy weather around a T Tauri star, an infant analog of our own Sun. This may help ...

Finding hints of gravitational waves in the stars

9 hours ago

Scientists have shown how gravitational waves—invisible ripples in the fabric of space and time that propagate through the universe—might be "seen" by looking at the stars. The new model proposes that ...

How gamma ray telescopes work

10 hours ago

Yesterday I talked about the detection of gamma ray bursts, intense blasts of gamma rays that occasionally appear in distant galaxies. Gamma ray bursts were only detected when gamma ray satellites were put ...

The frequency of high-energy gamma ray bursts

12 hours ago

In the 1960s a series of satellites were built as part of Project Vela.  Project Vela was intended to detect violations of the 1963 ban on above ground testing of nuclear weapons.  The Vela satellites were ...

User comments : 0