Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Astronomers look to neighboring galaxy for star formation insight

01.12.2011
An international team of astronomers has mapped in detail the star-birthing regions of the nearest star-forming galaxy to our own, a step toward understanding the conditions surrounding star creation.

Led by University of Illinois astronomy professor Tony Wong, the researchers published their findings in the December issue of the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is a popular galaxy among astronomers both for its nearness to our Milky Way and for the spectacular view it provides, a big-picture vista impossible to capture of our own galaxy.

“If you imagine a galaxy being a disc, the LMC is tilted almost face-on so we can look down on it, which gives us a very clear view of what’s going on inside,” Wong said.

Although astronomers have a working theory of how individual stars form, they know very little about what triggers the process or the environmental conditions that are optimal for star birth. Wong’s team focused on areas called molecular clouds, which are dense patches of gas – primarily molecular hydrogen – where stars are born. By studying these molecular clouds and their relationship to new stars in the galaxy, the team hopes to learn more about the metamorphosis of gas clouds into stars.

“When we study star formation, an important question is, what is the environment doing? How does the location of star formation reflect the conditions of that environment? There’s no better place to study the wider environment than the LMC.”

Using a 22-meter-diameter radio telescope in Australia, the astronomers mapped more than 100 molecular clouds in the LMC and estimated their sizes and masses, identifying regions with ample material for making stars. This seemingly simple task engendered a surprising find.

Conventional wisdom states that most of the molecular gas mass in a galaxy is apportioned to a few large clouds. However, Wong’s team found many more low-mass clouds than they expected – so many, in fact, that a majority of the dense gas may be sprinkled across the galaxy in these small molecular clouds, rather than clumped together in a few large blobs.

“We thought that the big clouds hog most of the mass,” Wong said, “but we found that in this galaxy, it appears that the playing field is more level. The low-mass clouds are quite numerous and they actually contribute a significant amount of the mass. This provides the first evidence that the common wisdom about molecular clouds may not apply here.”

The large numbers of these relatively low-mass clouds means that star-forming conditions in the LMC may be relatively widespread and easy to achieve. The findings raise some interesting questions about why some galaxies stopped their star formation while others have continued it.

To better understand the connection between molecular clouds and star formation, the team compared their molecular cloud maps to maps of infrared radiation, which reveal where young stars are heating cosmic dust.

For the comparison, they exploited a carefully selected sample of newborn heavy stars compiled by U. of I. astronomy professor You-Hua Chu and resident scientist Robert Gruendl, who also were co-authors of the paper. These stars are so young that they are still deeply embedded in cocoons of gas and dust.

“It turns out that there’s actually very nice correspondence between these young massive stars and molecular clouds,” Wong said. “That’s not entirely surprising, but it’s reassuring. We assume that these stars have to form in molecular clouds, and it tells us that the molecular clouds do hang around long enough for us to see them associated with these massive young stars.”

Wong hopes to continue to study the relationship between molecular clouds and star formation in greater detail. If researchers can determine the relative ages of young stars, they can correlate these against molecular clouds to figure out which clouds have star formation, how long the clouds live and what eventually leads to their destruction. They also plan to use a newly constructed array of telescopes in Chile to see the cloud environment in higher resolution, pinpointing exactly where inside the molecular cloud star formation will occur.

“This study provides us with our most detailed view of an entire population of clouds in another galaxy,” Wong said. “We can say with great confidence that these clouds are where the stars form, but we are still trying to figure out why they have the properties they do.”

The National Science Foundation and NASA supported this work.

Liz Ahlberg | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.illinois.edu
http://news.illinois.edu/news/11/1130lmc_TonyWong.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht APEX takes a glimpse into the heart of darkness
25.05.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

nachricht First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR
24.05.2018 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>