Categories: Star Formation

Star Formation Begins When Clouds of Gas Crash Into Each Other

To trigger star formation, you need to compress a lot of gas into not a lot of volume. To make a lot of stars at once, you need to really pack it in. Until now, astronomers haven’t been sure how to pull this off. But a collection of 20 papers outlines how to do it: make giant clouds of gas crash into each other.

Stars come from nebulae, and nebulae come from stars. It’s a vast, slow circle of stellar life that constantly circulates material throughout each galaxy. When a nebula, which is just a cloud of gas and dust, collapses, it can fragment. These fragmented parts then individually collapse, eventually reaching the densities needed to hatch a newborn star.

A typical star-forming nebulae will produce 10 to 100 sibling stars in one go. But astronomers have seen massive star clusters, containing over 10,000 members, within the Milky Way and our nearest neighbor galaxies, Andromeda and Triangulum. The traditional collapse-of-a-gas-cloud approach doesn’t usually produce so many stars, so the question of their formation has been an open one.

Recently, a team of researchers led by Associate Professor Kengo Tachihara and Emeritus Professor Yasuo Fukui of Nagoya University examined a hypothetical scenario for making giant star clusters. In this scenario, it’s not just one gas cloud collapsing one its own, but two or more clouds colliding with each other, setting off a chain reaction that converts almost all the available mass into stars.

To test the hypothesis, the team looked in our galaxy and our nearest neighbors for signs of colliding gas clouds, and if those collision regions were sites of recent of star formation. Their work, encompassing 20 papers, appeared in Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan in January 2021 as a special issue titled “Star Formation Triggered by Cloud-Cloud Collision ?.

From their observations, it does appear that colliding gas clouds supply enough energy and enough raw material to form giant star clusters. When gas clouds collide, it may be messy, but it sure is beautiful.

Paul M. Sutter

Astrophysicist, Author, Host | pmsutter.com

Recent Posts

If Launched by 2028, a Spacecraft Could Catch up With Oumuamua in 26 Years

A new study by the Institute of Interstellar Studies (i4is) shows that with the right…

8 hours ago

The Moon’s Crust was Formed From a Frozen Slushy Magma

Scientists' detailed study of the Moon dates back to the Apollo missions when astronauts brought…

14 hours ago

Tom Cruise Movie’s Producers Aim to Add Film Studio to the Space Station in 2024

The production company that's playing a key role in a space movie project involving Tom…

15 hours ago

Even Tiny Mimas Seems to Have an Internal Ocean of Liquid Water

Data from the Cassini mission keeps fuelling discoveries. The latest discovery is that Saturn's tiny…

16 hours ago

Ice Peeks out of a Cliffside on Mars

The HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured another…

1 day ago

A new Kind of Supernova has Been Discovered

A new supernova discovery shows that Wolf-Rayet stars explode after all.

2 days ago