Herschel discovers some of the youngest stars ever seen

Mar 19, 2013 by Whitney Clavin
Astronomers have found some of the youngest stars ever seen thanks to the Herschel space observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA contributions. Dense envelopes of gas and dust surround the fledging stars known as protostars, making their detection difficult until now. The discovery gives scientists a window into the earliest and least understood phases of star formation. Credit: NASA/ESA/ESO/JPL-Caltech/Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy

(Phys.org) —Astronomers have found some of the youngest stars ever seen, thanks to the Herschel space observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA contributions.

Observations from NASA's and the (APEX) telescope in Chile, a collaboration involving the Max Planck Institute for in Germany, the Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden, and the in Germany, contributed to the findings.

Dense envelopes of gas and dust surround the fledging stars known as protostars, making their detection difficult. The 15 newly observed protostars turned up by surprise in a survey of the biggest site of star formation near our solar system, located in the . The discovery gives scientists a peek into one of the earliest and least understood phases of star formation.

"Herschel has revealed the largest ensemble of such young stars in a single star-forming region," said Amelia Stutz, lead author of a paper to be published in The Astrophysical Journal and a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. "With these results, we are getting closer to witnessing the moment when a star begins to form."

Stars spring to life from the of massive clouds of gas and dust. This changeover from stray, cool gas to the ball of super-hot plasma we call a star is relatively quick by cosmic standards, lasting only a few hundred thousand years. Finding protostars in their earliest, most short-lived and dimmest stages poses a challenge.

Astronomers long had investigated the in the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a vast collection of star-forming clouds, but had not seen the newly identified protostars until Herschel observed the region.

"Previous studies have missed the densest, youngest and potentially most extreme and cold protostars in Orion," Stutz said. "These sources may be able to help us better understand how the process of star formation proceeds at the very earliest stages, when most of the stellar mass is built up and physical conditions are hardest to observe."

Herschel spied the protostars in far-infrared, or long-wavelength, light, which can shine through the dense clouds around burgeoning stars that block out higher-energy, shorter wavelengths, including the light our eyes see.

The Herschel Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) instrument collected infrared light at 70 and 160 micrometers in wavelength, comparable to the width of a human hair. Researchers compared these observations to previous scans of the star-forming regions in Orion taken by Spitzer. Extremely young protostars identified in the Herschel views but too cold to be picked up in most of the Spitzer data were further verified with radio wave observations from the APEX ground telescope.

"Our observations provide a first glimpse at protostars that have just begun to 'glow' at far-infrared wavelengths," said paper coauthor Elise Furlan, a postdoctoral research associate at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz.

Of the 15 newly discovered protostars, 11 possess very red colors, meaning their light output trends toward the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. This output indicates the stars are still embedded deeply in a gaseous envelope, meaning they are very young. An additional seven protostars previously seen by Spitzer share this characteristic. Together, these 18 budding stars comprise only five percent of the protostars and candidate observed in Orion. That figure implies the very youngest stars spend perhaps 25,000 years in this phase of their development, a mere blink of an eye considering a star like our sun lives for about 10 billion years.

Researchers hope to document chronologically each stage of a star's development rather like a family album, from before birth to early infancy, when planets also take shape.

"With these recent findings, we add an important missing photo to the family album of stellar development," said Glenn Wahlgren, Herschel Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Herschel has allowed us to study in their infancy."

Explore further: The changing laws that determine how dust affects the light that reaches us from the stars

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User comments : 30

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HannesAlfven
1.4 / 5 (10) Mar 19, 2013
Gravity is an omnidirectional force, and yet protostars are consistently observed to form along filaments like beads on a string. Critical thinking invites us to ask why that is ...
Q-Star
3.3 / 5 (15) Mar 19, 2013
Gravity is an omnidirectional force, and yet protostars are consistently observed to form along filaments like beads on a string. Critical thinking invites us to ask why that is ...


Aaah, ooh, ooh, maybe it is because the stuff that makes gravity (the beads and the string) is more dense in some places and less dense in other places. And there is some other forces helping gravity to shape the shapes we see. Mmmm, if I had to guess those other forces might thermal energy, fluid dynamics, magnetism, electrostatics, electrodynamics and chaos (with the help of the general make up of the stuff making the beads and strings.

What's your best guess? Oooh, oooh, oooh,,, I know, it must be ALL electricity. There is nothing going on but electricity, right?
El_Nose
1 / 5 (1) Mar 19, 2013
chaos is not a force
Fleetfoot
3.9 / 5 (7) Mar 19, 2013
Well in this case it is probably because star formation is often associated with shock fronts such as from nearby supernovae but the formation of filaments also follows automatically from the gravitational collapse of low density clouds because they shrink faster on the shorter axis. That's why dark matter simulations produce exactly the large scale structure that we see in the early universe. Look up "Jeans Instability" and the "top hat model".
Q-Star
3.6 / 5 (14) Mar 19, 2013
chaos is not a force


Neither is plasma, aether, or electron ducks, so I'm in good company.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (6) Mar 19, 2013
chaos is not a force


Force does not exist.

It's a fictitious entity used to describe interactions.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (6) Mar 19, 2013
Red stars are supposed to be very old. Blue stars are supposed to be young.
DarkHorse66
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 19, 2013
Red stars are supposed to be very old. Blue stars are supposed to be young.

No lurker, their colour is merely a function of their temperature. If those young stars are red, it means that they are still heating up, the equivalent of a fire in a furnace that is not yet at full blast. Eventually they will change colour. Just remember that a young star that is heating up, can be the same colour (ergo, temperature) as an old star that is cooling down while dying.
http://www.enchan...es.shtml
http://outreach.a...our.html
Best Regards, DH66
Renaisance
1 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2013
Force requires Mass and Momentum.
bipolarbear
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2013
Red stars are supposed to be very old. Blue stars are supposed to be young.

You mixed it all up. Red stars simply live longer, while the blue ones are burning their H2 reservoirs over shorter time. But both types still have to form somewhere, right?

As for the gravity argument, the whole cloud is in motion — it it at the shock sites along the filaments where the stars are often formed.

Also please please please physorg, DO post links to journal references!
rah
1 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2013
It seems to me that once the gas becomes dense enough to start a fusion reaction that the star would immediately flash on. I don't understand how it takes thousands of years. I'm not an astrophysicist btw. Maybe the initial fusion reaction uses up the densest gas, and so it needs to re-compress? Do I know what I'm talking about?
Fleetfoot
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 20, 2013
It seems to me that once the gas becomes dense enough to start a fusion reaction that the star would immediately flash on. I don't understand how it takes thousands of years.


You are right but that event happens at the core, it takes thousands of years for the energy from fusion to reach the surface. Before that flash though, gravitational compression must raise the temperature to the ignition point. It remains to be seen whether we are seeing these stars before or after the fusion switches on.
Fleetfoot
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 20, 2013
Also please please please physorg, DO post links to journal references!


This seems to be the paper: http://arxiv.org/abs/1302.1203
dschlink
not rated yet Mar 20, 2013
Also, as the gas cloud compresses the temperature rises, which will slow the formation. These proto-stars are being observed at room temperature, so they have a ways to go before igniting.
Maggnus
4 / 5 (4) Mar 20, 2013
Gravity is an omnidirectional force, and yet protostars are consistently observed to form along filaments like beads on a string. Critical thinking invites us to ask why that is ...


Ooh Oooh wait I got this one! Its the cross-directional wave ripple transgressing through the inverse omni-directed di-pole moment, creating the paddling quantum duck interface which then compressing the aether warming neutrinoes!

Anyone can see that!
Rutzs
4 / 5 (4) Mar 20, 2013
Real noob question here... But I hope someone can answer. I know almost nothing about science, but I love reading all the articles on Physorg.

To my knowledge, the earliest generation of stars & solar systems formed from the very basic elements, such as Hydrogen, Helium, etc, correct me if I'm wrong.

Will newer stars, younger than our own, present newer elements within it's solar system we haven't seen before? Due to the ongoing cycle of star destruction, and formation?
Q-Star
3.4 / 5 (10) Mar 20, 2013
To my knowledge, the earliest generation of stars & solar systems formed from the very basic elements, such as Hydrogen, Helium, etc, correct me if I'm wrong.


No not the hydrogen, that is what the very first (and all subsequent stars) used as a primary fuel source. The heavier elements up to iron are by-products of the fusion process inside of stars. But the variety and abundance produced is a big subject.

The elements heavier than iron form from processes that occur during and after a supernova event.

Will newer stars, younger than our own, present newer elements within it's solar system we haven't seen before? Due to the ongoing cycle of star destruction, and formation?


Never say never, but it is extremely unlikely something truly new will be produced naturally. It's more likely that some new but already existing element might be discovered. But as elements get heavier, they become more unstable.

A more detailed explanation requires nuclear physics.
Q-Star
3.4 / 5 (10) Mar 20, 2013
Will newer stars, younger than our own, present newer elements within it's solar system we haven't seen before? Due to the ongoing cycle of star destruction, and formation?


In nuclear physics, there is a theoretical upper limit to the number of protons which can be brought together to form a new element,,,, in nature.

But there are a few new elements, very short lived, which have been produced in the lab. It's exceedingly difficult to do.
Q-Star
3.2 / 5 (9) Mar 20, 2013
To my knowledge, the earliest generation of stars & solar systems formed from the very basic elements, such as Hydrogen, Helium, etc, correct me if I'm wrong.


My earlier answer was probably confusing, sorry.

No, you are not wrong, you are entirely correct. I buggered up my commas and periods.
Fleetfoot
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2013
Real noob question here... But I hope someone can answer. I know almost nothing about science, but I love reading all the articles on Physorg.

To my knowledge, the earliest generation of stars & solar systems formed from the very basic elements, such as Hydrogen, Helium, etc, correct me if I'm wrong.


That's right but there was no "etc.", only hydrogen and helium.

Will newer stars, younger than our own, present newer elements within it's solar system we haven't seen before? Due to the ongoing cycle of star destruction, and formation?


No, the process isn't cumulative. The first supernova of the first star in the observable universe would have produced every possible element in varying amounts. Present day supernovae do the same.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (6) Mar 23, 2013
No, no.

Red galaxies are said to be "old" because they have mostly red stars.

Blue galaxies are said to be "young" because they have mostly young stars.

The Sun is yellow.

Betelgeuse is red, is much larger, and burns a hell of a lot faster.

Sirius is blue, is somewhat larger, and burns much brighter than the Sun.

I didn't mix up anything.

The scientists mixed it all up.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (3) Mar 23, 2013
You mixed it all up. You are comparing old ideas of galaxies with star formation, and stars off the main sequence (old stars going giant) with main sequence stars.

If scientists mix stuff up, they will be told by their peers which will subsequently get more money for research. Science is self correcting. Web comments by people too ignorant of basic astronomy and other physics to understand that they should ask instead of pontificate on observable forces and star evolution, not so much.
Meyer
not rated yet Mar 24, 2013
To my knowledge, the earliest generation of stars & solar systems formed from the very basic elements, such as Hydrogen, Helium, etc, correct me if I'm wrong.

That's right but there was no "etc.", only hydrogen and helium.

And the oft-neglected lithium.
Fleetfoot
1 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2013
To my knowledge, the earliest generation of stars & solar systems formed from the very basic elements, such as Hydrogen, Helium, etc, correct me if I'm wrong.

That's right but there was no "etc.", only hydrogen and helium.

And the oft-neglected lithium.


;-)

I wondered if anyone would pick that up. Yes, but at a low enough level to be negligible in the context of this thread.
DarkHorse66
1 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2013
Red stars are supposed to be very old. Blue stars are supposed to be young.
vs
No, no.
Red galaxies are said to be "old" because they have mostly red stars. Blue galaxies are said to be "young" because they have mostly young stars. The Sun is yellow.
Betelgeuse is red, is much larger, and burns a hell of a lot faster.
Sirius is blue, is somewhat larger, and burns much brighter than the Sun. I didn't mix up anything.
The scientists mixed it all up.

@Lurker: first you talk about stars, then you talk about galaxies as if there was no distinction. They are two entirely different propositions! Granted, stars make up a galaxy, but just as you can't really infer age from just their colour, for stars, you can't really do that for galaxies either. A galaxy is not just a bunch of stars of the same colour. There is more than one reason why a galaxy might be either red or blue...cont
DarkHorse66
1 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2013
cont...in fact galaxies have older &younger sections &then there is the actual redshift to account for:
http://www.spacet...eic1001/
http://www.dailyg...rgy.html
http://curious.as...mber=566
http://ephemeris....2/d.html
& from a physorg article, some other, confounding factors spellt out:
http://phys.org/n...ies.html
As you can see, it is NOT that simple or straightforward. As for this thread, you need to decide which you are talking about; stars or galaxies & not treat them as the same thing.
DarkHorse66
1 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2013
No, no.
The Sun is yellow.

Betelgeuse is red, is much larger, and burns a hell of a lot faster.
Sirius is blue, is somewhat larger, and burns much brighter than the Sun.

I didn't mix up anything.

The scientists mixed it all up.

You are aware that there is a separate colour spectrum for temperature?
http://en.wikiped...perature
http://en.wikiped...adiation
http://www.astron...t/s4.htm
If something is burning brighter, it IS burning a lot faster. If you take a look at the colour temperature links given above, you will see that Sirius is hotter (therefore burning faster &-> brighter) & Betelgeuse is cooler (therefore burning slower&->not so bright) The slower a star is consuming its fuel, the lower its temperature tends to be, the longer its life is likely to be. That is a general rule thumb. IT IS ALSO A SEPARATE ISSUE TO REDSHIFT! for You really ARE one mixed up bunny.
DarkHorse66
1 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2013
As for the sun; it is classified as a yellow dwarf:
http://starchild....sun.html
Our sun is middle-aged.
Its light is actually WHITE.
The apparent yellow colour is due to ATMOSPHERIC SCATTERING.
For details read this:
http://en.wikiped...wiki/Sun
What is going to happen to our sun?
Read this:
http://cde.nwc.ed...ycle.htm
Oh, and observe that there is NO green in the thermal spectrum. If ever you see that in a flame, it is impurities or other substances burning off. Nothing to do with the temperature itself.
Regards, DH66
CQT
2 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2013
It remains to be seen whether we are seeing these stars before or after the fusion switches on. - Fleet

In 1954 there were witnesses to the first uncontrolled fusion of hydrogen.
The point of that - besides nuclear deterrent - was to gather as many unmistakable 'signatures' hall marking fusion in a point of time where that fusion was triggered.

How does nature obscure signatures that can not be mistaken for anything else other than the first moment of fusion?

Surely the energy spectrum signatures differs from all other points of time and signatures subsequent to initial fusion.

Are there no spectrum signatures that can make their way through the dust (or whatever stand between us and the moment of fusion) without being erased or leaving a trace of the moment the process was triggered?

These questions are outside my field. Rate accordingly.
Fleetfoot
3 / 5 (2) Mar 31, 2013
These questions are outside my field. Rate accordingly.


They are good questions.

The point of that - besides nuclear deterrent - was to gather as many unmistakable 'signatures' hall marking fusion in a point of time where that fusion was triggered.

How does nature obscure signatures that can not be mistaken for anything else other than the first moment of fusion?


The fusion occurs in the core, it is masked by half a million kilometers of dense plasma.

Surely the energy spectrum signatures differs from all other points of time and signatures subsequent to initial fusion.


What we see from the surface of the star is essentially a purely thermal background spectrum (it's not quite a black body) with some spectral lines due to elements in the surface layer.

Are there no spectrum signatures that can make their way through the dust (or whatever ..


The fusion process would create neutrinos which could be detected in theory but not in practice.

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