The birth of a massive star within a dark cloud core about 10,000 light years from Earth has been observed
by an international team of astronomers using the new ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array)
telescope in Chile.
The observations reveal how matter is being dragged into the centre of the huge gaseous cloud by the
gravitational pull of the forming star – or stars – along a number of dense threads or filaments.
“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.
This NASA image obtained October 16, 2011 shows the Carina Nebula, a star-forming region in the Sagittarius-Carina arm of the Milky Way. Astronomers have reported their best
observation yet of a massive star embryo growing within a dark cloud -- the largest stellar "womb" ever spotted in our Milky Way galaxy.
“We managed to get these very detailed observations using only a fraction of ALMA’s
ultimate potential. ALMA will definitely revolutionise our knowledge of star formation, solving some
current problems, and certainly raising new ones,” he said.
“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 centre. 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 centre to form one or
more massive stars.
"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," co-author Professor Gary Fuller,
from The University of Manchester, said,
The ALMA telescope is located deep in the Chilean desert, in one of the driest places on Earth - at an
altitude of 16,400ft. Credits: Xinhua News Agency
“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.”
“Matter is drawn into the centre 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 Ana Duarte-Cabral,
from the Université de Bordeaux, added.
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