Big Stellar Clusters in the Blue Dwarf Galaxy NGC 5253 (VLT + HST Composite Image) - ESO PR Photo 31a/04 (18 November 2004) Copyright: European Southern Observatory
Star formation is one of the most basic phenomena in the Universe. Inside stars, primordial material from the Big Bang is processed into heavier elements that we observe today. In the extended atmospheres of certain types of stars, these elements combine into more complex systems like molecules and dust grains, the building blocks for new planets, stars and galaxies and, ultimately, for life. Violent star-forming processes let otherwise dull galaxies shine in the darkness of deep space and make them visible to us over large distances.
Star formation begins with the collapse of the densest parts of interstellar clouds, regions that are characterized by comparatively high concentration of molecular gas and dust like the Orion complex (ESO PR Photo 20/04) and the Galactic Centre region (ESO Press Release 26/03). Since this gas and dust are products of earlier star formation, there must have been an early epoch when they did not yet exist. But how did the first stars then form? Indeed, to describe and explain "primordial star formation" - without molecular gas and dust - is a major challenge in modern Astrophysics.
A particular class of relatively small galaxies, known as "Blue Dwarf Galaxies", possibly provide nearby and contemporary examples of what may have occurred in the early Universe during the formation of the first stars. These galaxies are poor in dust and heavier elements. They contain interstellar clouds which, in some cases, appear to be quite similar to those primordial clouds from which the first stars were formed. And yet, despite the relative lack of the dust and molecular gas that form the basic ingredients for star formation as we know it from the Milky Way, those Blue Dwarf Galaxies sometimes harbour very active star-forming regions. Thus, by studying those areas, we may hope to better understand the star-forming processes in the early Universe.
Richard West | alfa
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