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Just days before the first anniversary of the Herschel space observatory’s launch, the first full science results – along with some very pretty images – were released at a symposium in the Netherlands. “Herschel is a new eye on a part of the cosmos that has been dark and buried for a long time,” said the mission’s NASA project scientist, Paul Goldsmith at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Above, Herschel’s observation of the star-forming cloud RCW 120 has revealed not only the huge blue bubble of gas, but also the small white spot is what some astronomers have called an “impossible” star.
It already contains eight to 10 times the mass of the sun and is still surrounded by an additional 2,000 solar masses of gas and dust from which it can feed further.
“This star can only grow bigger,” says Annie Zavagno, Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille in France. Massive stars are rare and short-lived. To catch one during formation presents a golden opportunity to solve a long-standing paradox in astronomy. “According to our current understanding, you should not be able to form stars larger than eight solar masses,” says Zavagno.
This image is taken looking towards a region of the Galaxy in the Eagle constellation, closer to the Galactic center than our Sun. Here, we see the outstanding end-products of the stellar assembly line. At the center and the left of the image, the two massive star-forming regions G29.9 and W43 are clearly visible. These mini-starbursts are forming, as we speak, hundreds and hundreds of stars of all sizes: from those similar to our Sun, to monsters several tens of times heavier than our Sun.
These newborn large stars are catastrophically disrupting their original gas embryos by kicking away their surroundings and excavating giant cavities in the Galaxy. This is clearly visible in the ‘fluffy chimney’ below W43.
Click the images for larger versions.
Learn more in this video released by the ESA, or see this ESA website