The chemical uniformity of stars in the same cluster is the result of turbulent mixing in the clouds of gas where star formation occurs, according to a study by astrophysicists at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Their results, published August 31 in Nature, show that even stars that don't stay together in a cluster will share a chemical fingerprint with their siblings which can be used to trace them to the same birthplace.
"We can see that stars that are part of the same star cluster today are chemically identical, but we had no good reason to think that this would also be true of stars that were born together and then dispersed immediately rather than forming a long-lived cluster," said Mark Krumholz, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.
This computer simulation shows the collision of two streams of interstellar gas, leading to gravitational collapse of the gas and the formation of a star cluster at the center. The left side shows the density of interstellar gas (redder indicates higher density), and the right side shows the two "tracer dyes" added to show how the gas from the two streams mixes together during the collapse. Circles indicate stars.
Credit: Y. Feng and M. Krumholz
Our sun and its siblings, for example, probably went their own ways within a few million years after they were born, Krumholz said. The new study suggests that astronomers could potentially find the sun's long-lost siblings even if they are now on the opposite side of the galaxy.
Krumholz and UC Santa Cruz graduate student Yi Feng used supercomputers to simulate two streams of interstellar gas coming together to form a cloud that, over the course of a few million years, collapses under its own gravity to make a cluster of stars. Studies of interstellar gas show much greater variation in chemical abundances than is seen among stars within the same open star cluster. To represent this variation, the researchers added "tracer dyes" to the two gas streams in the simulations. The results showed extreme turbulence as the two streams came together, and this turbulence effectively mixed together the tracer dyes.
"We put red dye in one stream and blue dye in the other, and by the time the cloud started to collapse and form stars, everything was purple. The resulting stars were purple as well," Krumholz said. "This explains why stars that are born together wind up having the same abundances: as the cloud that forms them is assembled, it gets thoroughly mixed. This was actually a bit of a surprise. I didn't expect the turbulence to be as violent as it was, so I didn't expect the mixing to be as rapid or efficient. I thought we'd get some blue stars and some red stars, instead of getting all purple stars."
The simulations also showed that the mixing happens very fast, before much of the gas has turned into stars. This is encouraging for the prospects of finding the sun's siblings, because the distinguishing characteristic of stellar families that don't stay together is that they probably disperse before much of their parent cloud has been converted to stars. If the mixing didn't happen quickly enough, then the chemical uniformity of star clusters would be the exception rather than the rule. Instead, the simulations indicate that even clouds that don't turn much of their gas into stars produce stars with nearly identical chemical signatures.
"The idea of finding the siblings of the sun through chemical tagging is not new, but no one had any idea if it would work," Krumholz said. "The underlying problem was that we didn't really know why stars in clusters are chemically homogeneous, and so we couldn't make any sensible predictions about what would happen in the environment where the Sun formed, which must have been quite different from the environments that give rise to long-lived star clusters. This study puts the idea on much firmer footing and will hopefully spur greater efforts toward making use of this technique."
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA.
Tim Stephens | Eurek Alert!
Tiniest Particles Shrink Before Exploding When Hit With SLAC's X-ray Laser
05.02.2016 | Tohoku University
Scientists create new state of matter: Quantum gas, liquid and crystal all-in-one
02.02.2016 | Universität Stuttgart
Automobiles increase the mobility of their users. However, their maneuverability is pushed to the limit by cramped inner city conditions. Those who need to...
Advance in biomedical imaging: The University of Würzburg's Biocenter has enhanced fluorescence microscopy to label and visualise up to nine different cell structures simultaneously.
Fluorescence microscopy allows researchers to visualise biomolecules in cells. They label the molecules using fluorescent probes, excite them with light and...
NASA's follow-on to the successful ICESat mission will employ a never-before-flown technique for determining the topography of ice sheets and the thickness of sea ice, but that won't be the only first for this mission.
Slated for launch in 2018, NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) also will carry a 3-D printed part made of polyetherketoneketone (PEKK),...
In the last decades, sea level has been rising continuously – about 3.3 mm per year. For reef islands such as the Maldives or the Marshall Islands a sinister picture is being painted evoking the demise of the island states and their cultures. Are the effects of sea-level rise already noticeable on reef islands? Scientists from the ZMT have now answered this question for the Takuu Atoll, a group of Pacific islands, located northeast of Papua New Guinea.
In the last decades, sea level has been rising continuously – about 3.3 mm per year. For reef islands such as the Maldives or the Marshall Islands a sinister...
The ‘Internet of Things’ is growing rapidly. Mobile phones, washing machines and the milk bottle in the fridge: the idea is that minicomputers connected to these will be able to process information, receive and send data. This requires electrical power. Transistors that are capable of switching information with a single electron use far less power than field effect transistors that are commonly used in computers. However, these innovative electronic switches do not yet work at room temperature. Scientists working on the new EU research project ‘Ions4Set’ intend to change this. The program will be launched on February 1. It is coordinated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).
“Billions of tiny computers will in future communicate with each other via the Internet or locally. Yet power consumption currently remains a great obstacle”,...
02.02.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
05.02.2016 | Life Sciences
05.02.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy