Infrared telescope reveals star formation in the Milky Way

Observations illustrate formation processes of both high- and low-mass stars.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Jul 22, 2017
Using a ground-based telescope capable of detecting infrared light, a team of scientists led by Dr. Grace Wolf-Chase of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois, found evidence of new stars forming in groups and clusters within the Milky Way.

Through an observation technique that isolates large gas clouds from other phenomena and processes occurring in active parts of the galaxy, the researchers were able to see the clouds streaming outward from regions where numerous baby stars are forming.

Star-formation regions, also known as stellar nurseries, can produce hundreds of stars of various masses and sizes.

Because our Sun is believed to have formed in such a cluster, studying these helps scientists better understand its origin as well as that of the solar system, Wolf-Chase noted.

Members of the research team observed these regions of the galaxy with the Near-Infrared Camera and Fabry-Perot Spectrometer (NICFPS) that is mounted on the Astrophysical Research Consortium's (ARC) 3.5-meter telescope at the Apache Point Observatory (APO) in Sunspot, New Mexico.

They looked into 26 dust clouds where massive stars were thought to be forming clusters using a combination of various infrared filters.

Through this technique, they were able to distinguish jets of light coming from baby stars from other types of light found in stellar nurseries, ultimately identifying 36 jets traversing 22 regions.

Stars are born from spinning molecular clouds of gas and dust. Gravity flattens the clouds into disks, and as they shrink, the clouds spin more and more rapidly.

When outflows of gas from the clouds are narrowed into jets, the disk's rotation slows down, allowing a proto-star to form at the disk's center.

While the disks can be as large as several billion miles across, the jets they produce can reach as long as 10 trillion miles.

Because planets form within these disks, the discovery of jets coming from baby stars often means planet formation is occurring in the young system.

The molecular clouds in which stars with more than eight solar masses form are often destroyed early by the intense ultraviolet radiation these stars emit.

Until now, scientists have been uncertain as to whether such massive stars ever develop disks and jets.

However, the new findings confirm that massive stars also emit jets, which last until the ultraviolet radiation produced by these stars disrupts their environments, causing the jets to shut down.

The researchers published their findings in The Astrophysical Journal.


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