Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Dark clouds, young stars, and a dash of Hollywood

30.10.2012
An astronomical project led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) has examined the earliest stages of star formation in unprecedented depth:

Using the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Telescope and techniques more commonly encountered in Hollywood blockbuster computer graphics than in astronomy, the researchers produced a three-dimensional map of the molecular cloud B68, a possible future birthplace for a low-mass star. Turning their attention to much more massive molecular clouds, the researchers also managed to identify a previously unobserved class of object that is likely the earliest known precursor of the birth of massive stars.


False-colour image of the dark cloud Barnard 68, prepared using data from the Herschel Space Telescope at different far-infrared wavelengths. The way in which the cloud appears to change shape depending on wavelength is a sign of uneven external illumination. In the bottom right corner, there are traces of an isolated object. This could be a cloud fragment in collision with Barnard 68.
Image credit: MPIA / Markus Nielbock

Stars are born in hiding, when dense regions within clouds of gas and dust collapse under their own gravity. But the clouds not only provide the raw material for star formation, they also absorb most of the light from their interior, hiding from view the crucial details of stellar birth – one of the key astronomical processes if we want to understand our own origins!

Now, two groups in the EPoS ("Earliest Phases of Star formation") project led by MPIA's Oliver Krause, using ESA's Herschel Space Telescope, report new results in understanding the earliest stages of star formation.

On the trail of the origin of low-mass stars (with less than about twice the mass of our Sun), a team led by Markus Nielbock (MPIA) has completed a detailed investigation of one of the best-known potential stellar birthplaces: the dark cloud (or "globule") Barnard 68 in the constellation Ophiuchus. Combining the Herschel Space Telescope's unrivaled sharpness and sensitivity in the far-infrared range with a method more often encountered in visual effects companies working on Hollywood blockbusters than in astronomy, the researchers were able to construct the most realistic 3D model of the cloud to date.

The method, adapted for this particular use by MPIA's Ralf Launhardt, uses what is known as raytracing: For each minute portion of the object that we can see, the line of sight is traced back into the object itself. The contribution by each portion of the light's path – is light being absorbed at this particular point? is it being emitted? if yes, at which wavelengths? – are added up. Raytracing is routinely used to produce realistic-looking computer-generated creatures, objects or whole scenes. Here, it helped to match light emitted within Barnard 68 at different wavelengths with simplified models of the cloud's three-dimensional shape, density and temperature distribution.

The results have shaken up some of what astronomers thought they knew about this cloud. The emerging picture is one of Barnard 68 condensing from a drawn-out filament, heated by unevenly distributed external radiation from the direction of the central plane of our home galaxy. The astronomers also found some signs pointing to a cloud fragment in collision with Barnard 68, which might lead to the cloud's collapse, and the formation of one or more low-mass stars, within the next hundreds of thousands of years, and whose existence had been predicted by a previous study (Burkert & Alves 2009).

As cosmic clouds go, Barnard 68 is rather small. Clouds of this size will give birth to a few low-mass stars at most. To find out how massive stars are born (mass greater than about twice the mass of the Sun), a team led by MPIA's Sarah Ragan turned Herschel's PACS camera to 45 significantly more massive dark clouds. The clouds contain numerous stars about to be born, so-called "protostars". While previous missions, such as NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, have also searched for protostars, Herschel enables astronomers to probe deeper into the clouds than ever before. Younger protostars are hidden much more effectively within their clouds than older ones. Herschel managed to find the youngest and most primitive protostars known.

The new observations swelled the ranks of known protostars from 330 to nearly 500 and, most excitingly, led to the discovery of a new type of not-quite-a-star: dense regions at a mere 15 degrees above absolute zero (-258 degrees Celsius) with no sign of a protostar. These regions are likely to be in an early precursor stage of star formation. In astronomy, where timescales of hundreds of millions or of billions of years are the norm, the fact that this precursor stage is expected to last less than 1000 years makes it extremely short-lived. Studying these elusive, pristine objects lays a necessary foundation for all subsequent studies of star formation.

Contact information

Markus Nielbock (lead author, Barnard 68 article)
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy
Phone: (+49|0) 6221 – 528 445
Email: nielbock@mpia.de
Sarah Ragan (lead author, massive stars article)
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy
Phone: (+49|0) 6221 – 528 458
Email: ragan@mpia.de
Markus Pössel (Public relations)
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy
Heidelberg, Germany
Phone: (+49|0) 6221 – 528 261
Email: pr@mpia.de

Dr. Markus Pössel | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://www.mpia.de
http://www.mpia.de/Public/menu_q2e.php?Aktuelles/PR/2012/PR121030/PR_121030_en.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A better way to weigh millions of solitary stars
15.12.2017 | Vanderbilt University

nachricht A chip for environmental and health monitoring
15.12.2017 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

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: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>