The hidden side of star formation revealed

May 7th, 2010 - 5:41 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 7 (ANI): ESA’s Herschel infrared space observatory has released new images that reveal previously hidden details of star formation.

One snapshot reveals what researchers called an ‘impossible’ star caught in the act of forming.

The images show thousands of these galaxies and beautiful star-forming clouds draped across the Milky Way.

The results, presented during a major scientific symposium held at the European Space Agency (ESA), challenge old ideas of star birth, and open new roads for future research.

Herschel’s observation of the star-forming cloud RCW 120 has revealed an embryonic star, which looks set to turn into one of the biggest and brightest stars in our Galaxy within the next few hundred thousand years.

It already contains eight to ten times the mass of the Sun and is still surrounded by an additional 2000 solar masses of gas and dust from which it can feed further.

“This star can only grow bigger. According to our current understanding, you should not be able to form stars larger than eight solar masses,” said Annie Zavagno, Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille.

Massive stars are rare and short-lived. To catch one during formation presents a golden opportunity to solve a long-standing paradox in astronomy.

This is because the fierce light emitted by such large stars should blast away their birth clouds before any more mass can accumulate. But somehow they do form.

Many of these ‘impossible’ stars are already known, some containing up to 150 solar masses, but now that Herschel has seen one near the beginning of its life, astronomers can use the data to investigate how it is defying their theories.

Herschel is the largest astronomical telescope ever to be placed into space. The diameter of its main mirror is four times larger than any previous infrared space telescope and one and a half times larger than Hubble. (ANI)

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