Young Star Clusters

Oct 12, 2009
A false-color infrared image of a cluster of young stars as seen by the infrared cameras on Spitzer. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Allen/ Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

( -- Most stars form in clusters. Recent studies of nearby star forming regions find that about three-quarters of their young stars are located in groups with ten or more members. The formation of stars in clusters is thus a central feature of the study of how stars are made. The presence of the cluster highlights the possible roles of many other physical phenomena in the birth, for example, the effects of the massive amounts of gas always found in young clusters, or the possibly disruptive interactions between embryonic stars in the crowded womb. It has even been suggested that massive stars form from the coalescence of smaller, neighboring stars.

Since it seems likely that our sun also formed in a cluster of , astronomers studying the birth of stars have been looking with interest at young clusters of stars. The task is not an easy one, however. in clusters are nearly always embedded within their natal clouds where large quantities of dust obscure the visible light, making comprehensive optical studies from the ground difficult, if not impossible. A solution has come from infrared cameras, especially those on the which can see deep into the dust clouds and detect even faint, new stars.

CfA astronomers Rob Gutermuth, Phil Myers, Lori Allen, and Giovanni Fazio, along with two colleagues, used the infrared cameras on board Spitzer to make the first uniform, detailed mid-infrared study of thirty-six star-forming groups within about 3000 light-years of earth (they contain about half of all the regions with clustering that have been cataloged out to this distance). Their new paper, which is the first in a series, identifies and classifies 2,548 young stars less than about a few million years old.

Using a statistical analysis of the spatial distributions of these young stars within their cluster, a technique that they perfected for this study, the scientists show that most stars (62% in this study) reside in one of thirty-nine clusters (some regions contain more than one cluster). The median diameter of a cluster is about 1.2 light-years, and the median separation of the young stars is only 0.2 light-years (for comparison, the nearest star to the sun today is 4 light-years away). The new results include enough objects that the conclusions can reliably address some general properties about the formation of stars in clusters.

Provided by Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

Explore further: Astronomers measure weight of galaxies, expansion of universe

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Spitzer Harvests Dozens of New Stars

Nov 16, 2005

Just in time for Thanksgiving, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has harvested a bounty of young stars. A new infrared image of the reflection nebula NGC 1333, located about 1,000 light-years from Earth in the ...

Hubble Sees Star Cluster 'Infant Mortality'

Jan 10, 2007

Astronomers have long known that young or "open" star clusters must eventually disrupt and dissolve into the host galaxy. They simply don't have enough gravity to hold them together, unlike their much more ...

Two Telescopes Combine to Probe Young 'Family' of Stars

Aug 08, 2007

A spectacular new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope uncovers a small group of young stellar "siblings" in the southern portion of the Serpens cloud – located approximately 848 light-years away from ...

Planets Living on the Edge

Dec 17, 2008

( -- Some stars have it tough when it comes to raising planets. A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows one unlucky lot of stars, born into a dangerous neighborhood. The stars themselves ...

Coronet: A Star Formation Neighbor

Sep 13, 2007

While perhaps not quite as well known as its star formation cousin of Orion, the Corona Australis region (containing, at its heart, the Coronet Cluster) is one of the nearest and most active regions of ongoing ...

Recommended for you

Evidence of a local hot bubble carved by a supernova

4 hours ago

I spent this past weekend backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park, where although the snow-swept peaks and the dangerously close wildlife were staggering, the night sky stood in triumph. Without a fire, ...

Astronomers measure weight of galaxies, expansion of universe

12 hours ago

Astronomers at the University of British Columbia have collaborated with international researchers to calculate the precise mass of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, dispelling the notion that the two galaxies have similar ...

Mysterious molecules in space

23 hours ago

Over the vast, empty reaches of interstellar space, countless small molecules tumble quietly though the cold vacuum. Forged in the fusion furnaces of ancient stars and ejected into space when those stars ...

Comet Jacques makes a 'questionable' appearance

Jul 28, 2014

What an awesome photo! Italian amateur astronomer Rolando Ligustri nailed it earlier today using a remote telescope in New Mexico and wide-field 4-inch (106 mm) refractor. Currently the brightest comet in ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Oct 12, 2009
If "stars form in clusters",

Then the massive neutron star that fragmented to make the accretion centers of these stars likely broke into several fragments.

That doesn't seem likely for the neutron star on which our Sun accreted because heavy elements like Fe, O, Si, Ni and S remained close to the neutron star and lightweight elements like H, H, C, and N formed giant gases planets further away ["The origin, composition, and energy source for the Sun", Paper #1041 (2001) 32nd Lunar & Planetary Science Conference]

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel