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A jet of molecular hydrogen arising from a forming high-mass star

A team of European astronomers offer new evidence that high-mass stars could form in a similar way to low-mass stars, that is, from accretion of gas and dust through a disk surrounding the forming star.

Their article, published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, reports the discovery of a jet of molecular hydrogen arising from a forming high-mass star located in the Omega nebula (M17). This detection confirms the hypothesis based on their earlier discovery that this forming high-mass star is surrounded by a large accretion disk.

While astronomers now understand the overall process of low-mass star formation very well, the formation process of massive stars is still very much under debate. Recent astronomical observations suggest that high-mass stars [1] could form through accretion processes, just like low-mass stars do. For instance, in 2004, European astronomers discovered a large accretion disk that probably surrounds a forming high-mass star, in the star-forming region M17, also known as the Omega nebula and located at a distance of about 7000 light years [2].

Looking again at M17 with the new spectrograph SINFONI [3] at the ESO-VLT, the same European group [4] report discovering a jet of molecular hydrogen (H2) that apparently arises from the forming high-mass star. The picture below illustrates this discovery, which is being published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The ejection of material through a jet or an outflow is always linked to accretion of gas and dust, either onto the circumstellar disk or onto the central protostar. The detection of the H2 jet thus provides evidence that ongoing accretion processes occur in the M17 disk. The team also estimates the mass outflow and mass accretion rates, which suggest that a star of high mass is forming within the M17 disk. This is an additional clue that high-mass stars form in a similar way to lower mass stars.

[1]A high-mass star is a star of more than 8 times the solar mass.

[2] For information about this earlier discovery, see the ESO press release and the article published in the ESO Messenger.

[3] SINFONI (for "Spectrograph for INtegral Field Observation in the Near-Infrared") is one of the most recent instruments installed at the ESO-VLT. Associated to an adaptive optics module, it provides very high-angular resolution spectra and images. Technical details and first results can be found on the ESO web site.

[4] The team includes D.E.A. Nürnberger (ESO), R. Chini (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany), F. Eisenhauer (MPE, Garching, Germany), M. Kissler-Patig, A. Modigliani, R. Siebenmorgen, M.F. Sterzik, T. Szeifert (ESO). Full article available at:

Jennifer Martin | alfa
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