Tonight's Sky
Sun
Sun
Moon
Moon
Mercury
Mercury
Venus
Venus
Mars
Mars
Jupiter
Jupiter
Saturn
Saturn

Tonight's Sky — Change location

OR

Searching...

Tonight's Sky — Select location

Tonight's Sky — Enter coordinates

° '
° '

Hunting high-mass stars with Herschel

Scientists discovered a continuous process in dense star-formation regions that allows the generation of massive suns.
W3_annotated
Annotated image of the W3 giant molecular cloud combining Herschel bands at 70 μm (blue), 160 μm (green) and 250 μm (red). The image spans 2 x 2 degrees. North is up and east is to the left. // ESA/PACS & SPIRE consortia, A. Rivera-Ingraham & P.G. Martin, Univ. Toronto, HOBYS Key Programme (F. Motte)
In this new view of a vast star-forming cloud called W3, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel space observatory tells the story of how massive stars are born.

W3 is a giant molecular cloud containing an enormous stellar nursery, some 6,200 light-years away in the Perseus Arm, one of our Milky Way Galaxy’s main spiral arms.

Spanning almost 200 light-years, W3 is one of the largest star-formation complexes in the outer Milky Way, hosting the generation of both low- and high-mass suns. The distinction is drawn at eight times the mass of our Sun — above this limit, stars end their lives as supernovae.

Dense bright-blue knots of hot dust marking massive star formation dominate the upper left of the image in the two youngest regions in the scene: W3 Main and W3 (OH). Intense radiation streaming away from the stellar infants heats up the surrounding dust and gas, making it shine brightly to Herschel’s infrared-sensitive eyes.

Older high-mass stars are also seen to be heating up dust in their environments, appearing as the blue regions labeled AFGL 333 in the lower left of the image, and the loop of KR 140, at bottom right.

Extensive networks of much colder gas and dust weave through the scene in the form of red filaments and pillar-like structures. Several of these cold cores conceal low-mass star formation, hinted at by tiny yellow knots of emission.

By studying the two regions of massive star formation, W3 Main and W3 (OH), scientists have made progress in solving one of the major conundrums in the birth of massive stars. That is, even during their formation, the radiation blasting away from these stars is so powerful that they should push away the very material they are feeding from. If this is the case, how can massive stars form at all?

Observations of W3 point toward a possible solution: In these very dense regions, there appears to be a continuous process by which the raw material is moved around, compressed, and confined under the influence of clusters of massive young protostars.

Through their strong radiation and powerful winds, populations of young high-mass stars may well be able to build and maintain localized clumps of material from which they can continue to feed during their earliest and most chaotic years, despite their incredible energy output.

0

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Read and share your comments on this article
Comment on this article
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of Astronomy.com are allowed to comment on this article. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
0 comments
ADVERTISEMENT

FREE EMAIL NEWSLETTER

Receive news, sky-event information, observing tips, and more from Astronomy's weekly email newsletter.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
BoxProductcovernov

Click here to receive a FREE e-Guide exclusively from Astronomy magazine.

Find us on Facebook

Loading...