Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Milky way churning out new stars at a furious pace

28.05.2004


Some of the first data from a new orbiting infrared telescope are revealing that the Milky Way - and by analogy galaxies in general - is making new stars at a much more prolific pace than astronomers imagined.


Caption: The nebula RCW49, shown in infrared light in this image from the Spitzer Space Telescope, is a nursery for newborn stars. Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have found in RCW49 more than 300 newborn or ’protostars,’ all with circumstellar disks of dust and gas. The discovery reveals that galaxies make new stars at a much more prolific rate than previously imagined. The stelar disks of dust and gas not only feed material onto the growing new stars, but can be the raw material for new planetary systems.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wisconsin-Madison



The findings from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope were announced today (May 27) at a NASA headquarters press briefing by Edward Churchwell, a University of Wisconsin-Madison astronomer and the leader of a team conducting the most detailed survey to date of our galaxy in infrared light.

Focusing the telescope on a compact cluster of stars at the heart of a distant nebula known as RCW49, Churchwell and his colleagues discovered more than 300 newly forming stars. Each of the stars, known to astronomers as protostars, has a swirling disk of circumstellar dust and creates ideal conditions for the formation of new solar systems.


"In this one small area, we have a stellar nursery like no one has ever seen before," says Churchwell, an expert on star formation. "The sheer number of objects is astounding, and may force us to rewrite our ideas of star formation and how much of it is going on in the Milky Way.

"I am dead sure there are many regions like this throughout the galaxy. It is not unique."

For years, astronomers have probed objects like the nebula RCW49, a thick, obscuring cocoon of dust and gas, with radio telescopes. Listening in, they have learned that these hidden pockets of space are the places where most of the new stars that populate a galaxy are born.

With the Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers can now look deep inside these regions to directly observe star formation: "We can peel away the dust layers to see what is going on and we’re seeing things in incredible detail. This telescope is almost perfectly tuned to study star formation and it will provide us with a huge database of protostars. And this is what makes galaxies tick, these areas of massive star formation," Churchwell says.

Indeed, his team has been able to catalog not only a large number of protostars from this one small region of space, but also the spectrum of newborn stars’ various stages of early development.

"We’re finding stars at different points in their evolutionary history," Churchwell explains. "We hope to be able to fill out the entire early evolutionary sequence of a star’s development."

Of special interest to astronomers is the potential for protostars to form planetary systems. The stars are formed from large disks of cool dust and gas, known as accretion disks. The nascent stars grow as material spirals inward from the disk to the star.

The same disks, astronomers think, provide the raw material for planets. "Protostars, we believe, develop planetary systems from these accretion disks," Churchwell notes.

The Spitzer Space Telescope is the last of NASA’s Great Observatory Program. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the telescope project.

The Great Observatory program, which also includes the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, is designed to sample the cosmos across a wide portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Spitzer Space Telescope was launched into an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit in August of 2003.

Churchwell’s team, which uses the Infrared Array Camera, one of three scientific instruments aboard the telescope, is charged with creating an infrared mosaic of a swath of the inner Milky Way composed of 300,000 image frames of 1.2 second exposures each.

"We’re making a complete survey of the inner two-thirds of our galaxy," Churchwell explains. "We can’t survey the very center of the galaxy because it is too bright and would swamp our detectors."

When completed, the survey will provide a wealth of data from regions of space previously obscured by foreground clouds of dust and gas. There will be many more surprises, Churchwell says.

The data are being analyzed by a team of about 20 scientists in Madison and around the country who make up the GLIMPSE or Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plain Survey Extraordinaire. The final data products will be archived and released to the astronomy community by the Spitzer Space Science Center in Pasadena, Calif.

Churchwell says the orbiting observatory is performing superbly. "From the perspective of the Infrared Array Camera, it’s almost picture perfect. The images are beautiful. It’s a real success story for NASA," he says.


Terry Devitt, (608) 262-8282, trdevitt@wisc.edu

CONTACT: Ed Churchwell, (608) 262-4909, churchwell@astro.wisc.edu; Barbara Whitney, (608) 263-0807, bwhitney@wisc.edu

Terry Devitt | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht When helium behaves like a black hole
22.03.2017 | University of Vermont

nachricht Astronomers hazard a ride in a 'drifting carousel' to understand pulsating stars
22.03.2017 | International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

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: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Pulverizing electronic waste is green, clean -- and cold

22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers hazard a ride in a 'drifting carousel' to understand pulsating stars

22.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New gel-like coating beefs up the performance of lithium-sulfur batteries

22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>