Milky Way's biggest star may have had a different beginning

Sep 04, 2013 by Elizabeth Tasker, The Conversation
If gas clouds collided to create big stars, they might look like this during the collision. This is the RCW120 Spitzer Bubble. Credit: NASA

The current theory of star formation has a problem: it cannot make big stars.

In the standard star-making recipe, are formed in the depths of made from . These clouds form the coldest part of the gas that exists between the stars throughout the Milky Way's galaxy disc. In the densest regions of the cloud, presses down to form a core which then sucks on the surrounding gas until it is big enough to begin .

This picture is immensely successful for forming a star like our own sun. However, try the same model with a star ten times larger and you swiftly run into problems. When a with size ambitions increases in mass, its temperature also begins to rise. As it heats from the chilly 10 K (-263 °C) to that approaching 100 K (-173 °C), gas can no longer flow onto its surface. This caps its growth. The extra heat also means the star begins to radiate energy, pushing away the surrounding material.

One way around this problem is to start with a much larger core. The boost at the beginning of the star's life would allow it to reach a higher mass before the temperature and radiation became prohibitively high. Yet, the formation of a core of the necessary size requires densities higher than those typically found inside an isolated gas cloud.

Big deal

This idea led astrophysicists to consider a new theory: what if two clouds were to collide to create a big star?

Such a violent encounter would create a strong boost in density at the point where the clouds crunch together, potentially causing a much larger volume of gas to succumb to its own and collapse to form a massive core. This idea for triggered has the backing of the theorists who predict that cloud collisions should be relatively common place events. Nevertheless, it has continued to remain on the outskirts of mainstream theories due to the simple fact that such encounters assumed to be frequent have been observed very rarely.

RCW79 Spitzer Bubble Leeds University.

However, this lack of observational evidence has recently changed with new discoveries surrounding the formation of Super Star Clusters. That name is accurately descriptive. Super Star Clusters are groups of stars that are tightly packed with around 10,000 stars squeezed into a volume ten times smaller than a normal star cluster. As with high mass star formation, the creation of these objects requires a large volume of gas to collapse rapidly which is impossible to rectify with traditional star formation theories.

It was during the observations of four Super Star Clusters that Yasuo Fukui at Nagoya University in Japan spotted something important. Associated with each cluster were two clouds moving towards each other at velocities greater than 20 km/s (around 45,000 mph). At these speeds, gas would shock at the point of collision, raising the density high enough to cause the of a massive object. The team concluded that these were indeed cloud events and this clash had been the cause of the Super Star Cluster formation (papers for this Super Star Cluster formation are here and here).

While this discovery put cloud collisions firmly on the star formation theory map, four examples were not enough to account for all high mass star formation in our galaxy. Yet, Fukui suspected the same mechanism might be in play for both Super Star Clusters and high mass stars. To prove this, his group turned to objects already well known in the astrophysical community: the Spitzer bubbles.

Beauty and the gas beast

Named after the infrared space telescope that was used to detect them, the Spitzer bubbles are full or partial rings of gas that litter our galaxy like foam in a bathtub. The most popular consensus for their origin is that they are the result of strong winds blown from a central star forming inside a cloud. This theory has three problems:

1. Winds strong enough to create such a bubble can only have been caused by a radiating high mass star, but such an object is rarely seen near the centre of the bubbles.

2. The bubble's interior often contains dust which should have been evacuated along with the gas in the outward push from the winds.

3. A fully three-dimensional bubble would not look like a ring when viewed on the sky. For a ring to appear would require not only a particular flattened cloud morphology, but also a specific viewing angle, which seems unlikely given that hundreds of bubbles are observed.

These inconsistencies caused Fukui's group to observe 52 of the Spitzer bubbles. They discovered something that cast the bubbles' origin in a whole new light. While the bubbles lacked a massive star at their centre, high mass stars were seen along the bubble wall. Not only that, but more than half the cases observed had two gas clouds associated with bubbles exactly as that seen for the Super Star Clusters.

Fukui thought it was possible these objects too could be the result of cloud collisions. But was their shape consistent with such a proposition?

To investigate this, my research group at Hokkaido University took over and ran computer simulations of cloud collisions. We confirmed what Fukui had suspected—that massive cores of gas were formed at the interface of two colliding clouds. If these clouds were different sizes, this interface became curved, showing a ring structure typical of the Spitzer bubbles.

A calculation based on the number of large clouds in the galaxy, the speeds of the Spitzer bubble clouds and the typical mass of stars observed in their rims gives an estimated triggered star formation rate that is very close to the observed rate. While any new theory needs to be able to stand the test of time as it faces other competing models, it does look possible that we might finally be looking at the main way our galaxy's biggest stars form.

Explore further: Magnetar discovered close to supernova remnant Kesteven 79

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cantdrive85
1 / 5 (23) Sep 04, 2013
My wife and I were sleeping back to back, we both simultaneously farted and when those two gas clouds collided there was a great flash and voila, a large star formed.

"We have to learn again that science without contact with experiments is an enterprise which is likely to go completely astray into imaginary conjecture." Hannes Alfvén

These "scientists" excel at imaginary conjecture.
Tuxford
1 / 5 (20) Sep 04, 2013
Still more support for LaViolette's 'Continuous Creation' model. Stars grow like plants, growing naturally from deep within their cores. The larger stars grow at an accelerated pace. How about all those isolated big stars observed?

Science can't yet explain this. Not yet, until more learn the science of Systems Theory. Physicists are mostly bewildered when confronted with these concepts, at least those I know are. They are often more comfortable with closed form solutions, rather than systems state equations, and systems dynamics.
vidyunmaya
1 / 5 (22) Sep 04, 2013
Sub: Searching Cosmos Quest-Knowledge base
Adding confusion to stagnant Minds does not inspire - Spirit of Science advancement. If you consider Science at cross roads or cross functional modes, one needs to search beyond and to the origins.
Cosmology East West Center calls for best of brains trust. The Cosmic Fnction of the Universe is well defined way back in 1993-96 in my projections- I did expect this state of dilemma.From Alfven's Cosmos Quest, cosmologists need to apply their minds to unravel the mystery of the Universe- This is the necessity.
1.PLASMA VISION OF THE UNIVERSE-1993 (TXU 729-718)2.THE VISION OF COSMIC UNIVERSE TO PREM UNIVERSE-1995 (TXU 893-693) *PREM: Plasma Regulated Electro-Magnetic Universe
3.OM VEDIC VISION OF THE UNIVERSE-1996(TXU729-719)
All books available- vidyardhicosmology [dot] blogspot] com
Gmr
3 / 5 (10) Sep 04, 2013
Bingo! I think I have a bingo if you count the free space...
nEc2
2.5 / 5 (13) Sep 04, 2013
What a stupid ppl commenting Astronomy threads. Excuse me....not stupid, but EXTREMELY stupid! Don;t you have anything else to do? Why don't you go play with amoebas, they're on your intellectual level.
no fate
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 04, 2013
This is one of those articles that makes me question something I thought I understood. Elemental composition of the star forming region would have been what I would have pegged as the variable setting the upper limit on size during stellar formation.
katesisco
1.2 / 5 (17) Sep 04, 2013
Extreme Cosmos: B Gaensler says research shows that our black holes are basically the same size now as 14 bya. so I think that this concept of colliding gas clouds, galaxies, is overdone. It is convenient. Here at home in the Magellanic Clouds are tremendous sized stars whose formation is inexplicable. I suggest that the disintegration of the original galaxy produced such strong magnetic fields that existing suns were able to 'reshell' and become super-sized.
Q-Star
3 / 5 (10) Sep 04, 2013
Here at home in the Magellanic Clouds are tremendous sized stars whose formation is inexplicable.


Katerine dear, I had always wondered where ya came by your novel ideas, now I know. See here at our home, in the MWG we don't see things from your observational home.

I suggest that the disintegration of the original galaxy produced such strong magnetic fields that existing suns were able to 'reshell' and become super-sized.


Your suggestion is noted and we'll get around to looking into that very realistic probability as soon as practically possible. Novel and ways to take science are always in short supply, thanks for such an important contribution.

By the By: Zeph needs a collaborator, send him a PM and see if ya can come to an agreement on terms. But ya should hurry, the New Age Bus Tour is about to depart.
Noumenon
1.3 / 5 (16) Sep 04, 2013
What a stupid ppl commenting Astronomy threads. Excuse me....not stupid, but EXTREMELY stupid! Don;t you have anything else to do? Why don't you go play with amoebas, they're on your intellectual level.


Again, another post by you with zero substance. If you disagree with someone post a rebuttal rather than just vacuous insults. There is as yet zero indication that you know better than anyone posting above.
On secondthoughtthinkagain
1.9 / 5 (14) Sep 04, 2013
I find the conjecture put forward by the article to be pretty reasonable and well within the bounds of possibility. I have read some pretty way out theories put forward by what I would have otherwise surmised to be intelligent and reasonable adults and this one falls into the category of being quite reasonable and intelligent. I think our electric and plasma guys should be thinking how they can incorporate these cloud mergers into there own pet theories because I think this one is here to stay.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (16) Sep 05, 2013
Ya know, I don't think "ass gas" collisions are going to make their way into the EU/PC lexicon. Although that damn star is still shining above our bed, we nor any of our friends have been able to replicate so the data just isn't supportive. I suspect the gas was contaminated by dark ass matter.
On secondthoughtthinkagain
1.3 / 5 (12) Sep 05, 2013
Ya know, I don't think "ass gas" collisions are going to make their way into the EU/PC lexicon. Although that damn star is still shining above our bed, we nor any of our friends have been able to replicate so the data just isn't supportive. I suspect the gas was contaminated by dark ass matter.


Why not? The ass gas may just have been assembled by ass plasma into an ass conglomerate mass to better build a star or ass focal point for ass electricity.