NGC 6334: A mini starburst region?

Jun 05, 2013
Fig. 1: In this false-color image of NGC 6334, red represents the Herschel 70 micron IR image, green represents the IRAC 8 micron image and blue represents the NEWFIRM 1 micron J band. The region is about 70 light years wide. Image credit: S. Willis (CfA+ISU); ESA/Herschel; NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Spitzer; CTIO/NOAO/AURA/NSF

(Phys.org) —Stars are known to form in dense clouds of gas and dust, but why do some regions show prodigious rates of star formation, while others barely produce any young stars at all? Many of the richest sites are found in distant galaxies: the name "starburst" is applied to them. Now, a team has identified a region in our own galaxy that may deserve this title, and help explain what leads to the furious production of new stars in a starburst region.

This region, NGC 6334 or informally named the Cat's Paw Nebula, is rich in gas and dust. Long known to contain very massive young , NGC 6334 lies in the constellation Scorpius, toward the at a distance of about 5,500 light years, and practically in the plane of the Milky Way. It is the massive, hottest stars, classified by astronomers as type O, that cause the gas surrounding them to glow in the optical spectrum.

Imaging done at the NOAO Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, Chile, combined with data from the , have enabled the team, led by Sarah Willis (Iowa State University), to catalog much fainter in NGC 6334 than has been done before. Figure 1 shows combined images from space and ground-based telescopes. In this false color composite, blue is assigned to a ground-based image, green to a longer-wavelength image from †he Spitzer Space Telescope, and red to an even longer-wavelength image from the Herschel Space Telescope. The ground-based data were taken with the NOAO Extremely Wide-Field , or NEWFIRM. (Figure 2).

"The study of NGC 6334 is a major component of Sarah Willis' PhD thesis which is aimed to bridge the gap between the distant starburst galaxies and their relatively modest counterparts in our own galaxy." says Massimo Marengo (Iowa State) who is Willis' thesis advisor.

Figure 2: NEWFIRM. (NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Starting from the brightest and most in the region, the team has identified and catalogued all the stars down to those with the brightness of the sun - approximately a million times fainter. Then, based on previous knowledge of the number of stars that form as a function of stellar mass, they can extrapolate to identify how many lower mass stars exist in the region. This is analogous to saying that if we observe the adult population in a town, we can estimate how many children live in the town, even if we can't see them. In this way, the team can derive an estimate of the total number of stars in the region, and the efficiency with which stars are forming.

As team member Lori Allen (NOAO) says, "The observations acquired with NEWFIRM allowed us to identify and separate out the large number of contaminating sources, including background galaxies and cool stellar giants in the Galactic plane to obtain a more complete census of the newly-formed stars". The team finds that the star formation rate in this region is equivalent to 3600 solar masses of gas becoming stars every million years – a tremendous rate even by astronomical standards.

Explore further: Image: Hubble sees a swirl of star formation

Related Stories

Image: Hubble sees a swirl of star formation

May 27, 2013

(Phys.org) —This beautiful, glittering swirl is named, rather un-poetically, J125013.50+073441.5. A glowing haze of material seems to engulf the galaxy, stretching out into space in different directions ...

Sweeping the dust from a cosmic lobster

Feb 20, 2013

(Phys.org)—A new image from ESO's VISTA telescope captures a celestial landscape of glowing clouds of gas and tendrils of dust surrounding hot young stars. This infrared view reveals the stellar nursery ...

Young, hot and blue: Stars in the cluster NGC 2547

Mar 27, 2013

(Phys.org) —This pretty sprinkling of bright blue stars is the cluster NGC 2547, a group of recently formed stars in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sail). This image was taken using the Wide Field ...

An anarchic region of star formation

May 02, 2013

(Phys.org) —The Danish 1.54-meter telescope located at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile has captured a striking image of NGC 6559, an object that showcases the anarchy that reigns when stars form inside ...

Light from the darkness

Jan 16, 2013

(Phys.org)—An evocative new image from ESO shows a dark cloud where new stars are forming, along with a cluster of brilliant stars that have already emerged from their dusty stellar nursery. The new picture ...

Recommended for you

Quest for extraterrestrial life not over, experts say

Apr 18, 2014

The discovery of an Earth-sized planet in the "habitable" zone of a distant star, though exciting, is still a long way from pointing to the existence of extraterrestrial life, experts said Friday. ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

Apr 18, 2014

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Exoplanets soon to gleam in the eye of NESSI

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI) will soon get its first "taste" of exoplanets, helping astronomers decipher their chemical composition. Exoplanets are planets ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Ophelia
not rated yet Jun 05, 2013
Starting from the brightest and most massive stars in the region, the team has identified and catalogued all the stars down to those with the brightness of the sun - approximately a million times fainter.
Someone want to interpret that for me?

I really wish the "internet" would hire some editors - or that all of the would-be writers out there took a few grammar courses.
nkalanaga
not rated yet Jun 05, 2013
The brightest stars are a million times brighter than the Sun. More massive main sequence stars are brighter than less massive, so given the age of the star, the mass can be determined from the brightness. Thus "down to those with the brightness of the sun - approximately a million times fainter." simply means "fainter than the brightest stars in the study".

The relationship fails for old stars, as red giants can be the same brightness over a wide mass range, and a low mass RG can be brighter than a high mass main sequence star, but all of the stars in this study should be young and about the same age.

The grammar is fine, for astronomer's jargon, even if it looks a little odd by Queen's English standards.
no fate
not rated yet Jun 05, 2013
It means that the brightest stars in this region are a million (6 orders of magnitude) brighter than our sun.

Nkalanaga beat me to the punch on that one.

More news stories

NASA's MMS observatories stacked for testing

(Phys.org) —Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., accomplished another first. Using a large overhead crane, they mated two Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, observatories – ...

ISEE-3 comes to visit Earth

(Phys.org) —It launched in 1978. It was the first satellite to study the constant flow of solar wind streaming toward Earth from a stable orbit point between our planet and the sun known as the Lagrangian ...

Easter morning delivery for space station

Space station astronauts got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies. The shipment arrived Sunday morning via the SpaceX company's Dragon cargo capsule.

Meth mouth menace

Something was up in Idaho. While visiting a friend in Athol, a small town north of Coeur d'Alene, Jennifer Towers, director of research affairs at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, noticed ...