Astronomers Observe the Birth of a Massive Star in the Milky Way

Scientists Observe the Birth of a Massive Star

Artist’s impression of the developing star/cloud system. Credit: David A. Hardy/www.astroart.org

Using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array, astronomers observed the birth of a massive star within a dark cloud core, revealing in superb detail the filamentary network of dust and gas flowing into the central compact region of the cloud.

Scientists have observed in unprecedented detail the birth of a massive star within a dark cloud core about 10,000 light years from Earth.

The team used the new ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) telescope in Chile – the most powerful radio telescope in the world – to view the stellar womb which, at 500 times the mass of the Sun and many times more luminous, is the largest ever seen in our galaxy.

The researchers say their observations – published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics – reveal how matter is being dragged into the center of the huge gaseous cloud by the gravitational pull of the forming star – or stars – along a number of dense threads or filaments.

ALMA Reveals a Massive Star

a) Mid-infrared Spitzer composite image of SDC335. b) Herschel column density image of SDC335. c) ALMA 3.2 mm dust continuum emission of the central region of SDC335 where two cores are identified, MM1 and MM2. The yellow ellipse represents the ALMA beam size. Credit: A&A 555, A112 (2013)

“The remarkable observations from ALMA allowed us to get the first really in-depth look at what was going on within this cloud,” said lead author Dr Nicolas Peretto, from Cardiff University. “We wanted to see how monster stars form and grow, and we certainly achieved our aim. One of the sources we have found is an absolute giant — the largest protostellar core ever spotted in the Milky Way!

“Even though we already believed that the region was a good candidate for being a massive star-forming cloud, we were not expecting to find such a massive embryonic star at its center. This cloud is expected to form at least one star 100 times more massive than the Sun and up to a million times brighter. Only about one in 10,000 of all the stars in the Milky Way reach that kind of mass.”

Different theories exist as to how these massive stars form but the team’s findings lend weight to the idea that the entire cloud core begins to collapse inwards, with material raining in towards the center to form one or more massive stars.

Co-author Professor Gary Fuller, from The University of Manchester, said: “Not only are these stars rare, but their births are extremely rapid and childhood short, so finding such a massive object so early in its evolution in our Galaxy is a spectacular result.

“Our observations reveal in superb detail the filamentary network of dust and gas flowing into the central compact region of the cloud and strongly support the theory of global collapse for the formation of massive stars.”

The University of Manchester hosts the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)-funded support center for UK astronomers using ALMA, where the observations were processed.

Team member Dr Ana Duarte-Cabral, from the Université de Bordeaux, said: “Matter is drawn into the center of the cloud from all directions but the filaments are the regions around the star that contain the densest gas and dust and so these distinct patterns are generated.”

Dr Peretto added: “We managed to get these very detailed observations using only a fraction of ALMA’s ultimate potential. ALMA will definitely revolutionize our knowledge of star formation, solving some current problems, and certainly raising new ones.”

Note:

  • Astronomers use the expression “massive stars” to mean those with roughly ten or more times the mass of the Sun. It refers to the star’s mass, not its size.
  • This star formation region is forming many stars. The 500 solar mass core is the most massive of several.

Publication: N. Peretto, et al., “Global collapse of molecular clouds as a formation mechanism for the most massive stars,” A&A, Volume 555, A112, July 2013; DOI:10.1051/0004-6361/201321318

Images: David A. Hardy; N. Peretto, et al., A&A 555, A112 (2013)

9 Comments on "Astronomers Observe the Birth of a Massive Star in the Milky Way"

  1. I have never quite understood Star formation. Often in the “layman’s” language of the explanation, a Star reaches a mass at which the Fusion process starts and it begins to shine. This in animations is shown in that the solar wind blows the remaining gas outwards clearing the area around the Star. If this is correct, once you reach a critical mass for fusion the Star would stop growing and all Stars would be the same size as you have blown the remaining gas away. I know that this not the case, so I assume the animation is wrong, or there is a key piece of information that is missing from the programmes’ description of Star formation. Please can you help, I find a lot of these programmes very frustrating as a result.

    Regards

  2. Question: Is this formation that is something that has been taking place over millions of years of stellar evolution?

    If so, then they have not observed the birth of a ‘new star’. It is probably merely a star that has been behind stellar gases and is now becoming more visible because they moved, like clouds in our atmosphere that move to make the moon and stars visible.

  3. Madanagopal.V.C | October 4, 2013 at 8:32 am | Reply

    Hello Sirs! Please note the filamentary network of dust going towards the centre of the cloud and hence towards formation of a star. Moreover these giants are only baby stars in formation which should be corrected for their sizes later on since there are only 1 in 10000 of such stars in our galaxy. Hence please enjoy the miracle of star formation silently. Thank YOu.

    • No star formation evidence here. Lame….rhis is philisophy. Nice picture of a mature star bug enough to suck in everything around it along with the intelligence if the blind biased stargazers. My advise to you guys…..enhoyd GODS creation which was created to demonstrate HUS unlimited power and glory….as stated in the Bible BTW….Which best described the observed universe and earth. The end…no argument.

      • How can you be sure that this is not a star forming ? more information please

        • Sadly Mr. Craig Brown, there has never been a star birth observed, or proven that the phenomena actually occurs. The pressure is not on Kevin to prove that stars don’t form, its on you to prove that they do.
          So Craig, how can you be sure this is a star forming? more information please.

          Don’t like cheeky fellows.

  4. Last message from my handheld…i generally soell ‘gooder’…in a hurry

  5. You are full of bull crap

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