The Stellar Buffet: Astronomers Reveal Triple Baby Star Feeding Frenzy

Triple Protostars Art Concept

Artist’s impression of the triple protostars, IRAS 04239+2436. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Global research team discovers triple baby stars reaching out to feast.

Astronomers have observed and analyzed spiral arms feeding young stars in a developing triple stellar system, offering new insights into star and planet formation processes.

As we continue to explore the cosmos, an international research team, including UF astronomy professor Jaehan Bae, has made significant strides in understanding the formation of stars and the complexities of planet formation.

During the study, a significant discovery was made when the researchers observed three large spiral arms distributing to early-stage stars, or protostars, in the developing triple stellar system. The researchers confirmed that the spiral arms act as “streamers,” supplying materials to the young stars, which grow by absorbing gas. The findings, featured in The Astrophysical Journal, provide valuable insights into the origins of the streamers, which were previously unclear.

Understanding Multiple Stellar Systems

Although most stars in the galaxy form in multiples, unlike our Sun, understanding the formation of multiple stellar systems has proven a challenging task. “There are different theoretical models explaining the formation of multiple stellar systems, but exactly how stars form in multiples has not been fully understood,” said Bae.

The global team, led by Professor Jeong-Eun Lee from Seoul National University, used an array of radio telescopes called the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study the forming system. As a theorist, Bae played a crucial role in interpreting the observed data, connecting it with theoretical models to infer possible formation mechanisms.

A simulation of multiple star formation by the supercomputer “ATERUI”. The movie shows that multiple protostars are born in a filamentary turbulent gas cloud, and they excite spiral arms and disturb the surrounding gas as they orbit. Credit: Tomoaki Matsumoto, Takaaki Takeda, 4D2U Project, NAOJ

Simulations and Future Endeavors

The team conducted computer simulations led by Tomoaki Matsumoto, a professor at Hosei University, to support the observed data. They found a remarkable agreement between the simulation and observations, according to Bae, indicating that the theoretical framework they proposed is likely operating as expected.

“The best way to test theoretical models is to observe multiples that are forming right now,” Bae said. Looking ahead, Bae’s team has submitted a proposal for a systematic observing program for forming stellar systems. The program aims to identify signs of dynamic interactions between forming stars and their environments.

“With this research, I am hoping that we can observe other forming multiple stellar systems to see if this one is an oddball or it’s a norm,” Bae said.

Gas Distribution Around the Trinary Protostars IRAS 04239+2436

Distribution of gas in the triple protostar IRAS 04239+2436. (Left) Distribution of gas captured by ALMA (intensity of radio waves emitted by sulfur monoxide), (Right) Distribution of gas reproduced by numerical simulation. The A and B blue sources in the left panel correspond to radio waves from the dust disk surrounding each protostar, and point source A consists of two unresolved protostars. In the right panel, the positions of three protostars are indicated by crosses. Numerical simulations reproduce the observed three spiral arms. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J.-E. Lee et al.

The researchers hope to determine whether their observations are an anomaly or if systems are commonly formed through similar processes, providing important constraints on our understanding of star formation. By successfully observing and modeling the early stages of multiple star formation, their work opens up new avenues for research in star and planet formation.

For more on this research:

Reference: “Triple spiral arms of a triple protostar system imaged in molecular lines” by Jeong-Eun Lee, Tomoaki Matsumoto, Hyun-Jeong Kim, Seokho Lee, Daniel Harsono, Jaehan Bae, Neal J. Evans II, Shu-ichiro Inutsuka, Minho Choi, Ken’ichi Tatematsu, Jae-Joon Lee and Daniel Jaffe, 4 August 2023, The Astrophysical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/acdd5b

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