Young Stars Forming Near Galactic Black Hole


Just as young children need safe, nurturing environments to develop and grow, young stars, too need just the right environment to get their start in life. Or do they? At the center of our galaxy is a 4 million solar-mass black hole. If molecular clouds that form stellar nurseries were nearby, they should be ripped apart by powerful, black-hole-induced gravitational tides. But yet, astronomers have found two young protostars located just a few light-years from the galactic center. Using the Very Large Array of radio telescopes, astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy made this discovery, showing that stars indeed can form close to a black hole. “We literally caught these stars in the act of forming,” said Smithsonian astronomer Elizabeth Humphreys, who presented the finding today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California.

It’s difficult to study the mysterious region near the Milky Way’s center. Visible light can’t penetrate the dominant gas and dust, so astronomers use other wavelengths like infrared and radio to penetrate the dust more easily.

Humphreys and her colleagues searched for water masers—radio signals that serve as signposts for protostars still embedded in their birth cocoons. They found two protostars located seven and 10 light-years from the galactic center. Combined with one previously identified protostar, the three examples show that star formation is taking place near the Milky Way’s core.

Their finding suggests that molecular gas at the center of our galaxy must be denser than previously believed. A higher density would make it easier for a molecular cloud’s self-gravity to overcome tides from the black hole, allowing it to not only hold together but also collapse and form new stars.

The discovery of these protostars corroborates recent theoretical work, in which a supercomputer simulation produced star formation within a few light-years of the Milky Way’s central black hole.

“We don’t understand the environment at the galactic center very well yet,” Humphreys said. “By combining observational studies like ours with theoretical work, we hope to get a better handle on what’s happening at our galaxy’s core. Then, we can extrapolate to more distant galaxies.”

Source: Harvard-Smithsonian Center For Astrophysics

18 Replies to “Young Stars Forming Near Galactic Black Hole”

  1. I hate when I get caught in the act of Forming, especially in proximity to a black hole.

  2. p — depends on how you define “unicorn.” Apparently they were a big disappointment to Marco Polo . . . after he met his first Asian rhinoceros. 😀

  3. Easy, oilsmastery….the difference is that we have plenty of empirical evidence that Sag A is a black hole. We have no evidence whatsoever that unicorns exist.

  4. The actual ASS paper abstract for this soon to be published article is; “Active Star Formation Within Two Parsecs of Sgr A*?”, written by Humphreys, Elizabeth; Reid, M. J.; Menten, K. M. from Harvard-Smithsonian and the Max Planck Institut fur Radioastronomie.
    The young candidate within the central parsec of the galactic centre was found by Menten in 1997 – and made much news at the time.
    Why doesn’t this article mention the key discovery of water masers used to trace the fact that this is a likely star formation region? This paper confirms the 2.2 micron 2MASS survey results of the discovery of SiO and OH masers also suggesting star formation. Saying “The discovery of these protostars corroborates recent theoretical work, in which a supercomputer simulation produced star formation within a few light-years of the Milky Way’s central black hole.” is not quite true. This may explain the phenomena, but the discovery of these particular regions.
    Finally, this paper’s abstract ; “we argue that in situ formation is a plausible origin for stars in the central parsecs, and that transportation inward from much larger (e.g., 10 – 30 pc)” This infers a postulate not a discovery – hence the important question mark in the paper’s title.
    Source: SAO/NASA ADS Astronomy Abstract Service 06 Jan 2009

  5. I stated in the previous response; “This may explain the phenomena, but the discovery of these particular regions.”
    This should read;
    “This may explain the phenomena, but the discovery of these particular regions?”
    Sorry for the confusion,

  6. Salacious, you are a ding-dong. You know the words, you just don’t use them correctly.
    There were no “key” discoveries here involving water masers.
    Water masers are what they searched for, since they are evidence of early formation.

    Your weird analysis of corroboration of data from this study with computer simulations doesn’t make any sense at all. Especially since the data from the study does reflect data from simulations. Something I know of first hand.

    Re-read everything slowly.
    Also remember, this is a simple blog. It leaves out A LOT OF THINGS. If you want specifics…they provide links of origin. Pursue them on your own. Dont berate them, because they leave something out.

  7. NASA recycled that artwork of young stars near the galactic center from a news story a few years back on young stars near the center of the Andromeda galaxy.

    A cost-saving measure or did they assume most people wouldn’t know the difference? Or a bit of both?

  8. Mr. Obvious
    Thanks for your insight, even though they are slightly misinformed.

    The abstract of “Active Star Formation Within Two Parsecs of Sgr A*?” says;

    “Here, we report discovery of two additional YSO candidates at projected radii of 2 pc and 3.7 pc from a total of 12 H2O masers we detected in observations using the Very Large Array (VLA).”

    Yet you say; “There were no “key” discoveries here involving water masers.
    Water masers are what they searched for, since they are evidence of early formation.”

    So did they or didn’t they?

  9. Once upon a time, reading the comentary at UT was a pleasure. Articles were posted and interesting people said interesting things both in agreement and dispute. They seemed to adhere to a standard of civility for the most part.

    Things have changed. People, who may very well know what they’re talking about, would rather attack and berate the authors and bloggers rather than simply point out the issue that troubles them and perhaps offer an alternate viewpoint.

    Others post who really have no understanding at all but would have the world believe they were the reincarnation of Richard Feynman.

    I’m a layman, smart enough grasp some of the broader concepts and willing to slog through more rigorous material to glean what I can.

    I come to this “popular” site – frequented by professional astronomers and physicists – to read common language discussion of things that interest me, like the cosmological implications of astronomy and astrophysics.

    I find very little real discussion of these matters here anymore – relative to the mountain of garbage posts that have nothing to contribute.

    This commentary section is of little help anymore to me. It’s become a dense, massive idiot-forming region. It has a lot in common with the vile hateful stuff you might read at typical troll-populated newspaper website forum.

    If I could have my wish I’d ask for this:
    The real pros and enlightened amatures post intelligent, topical comments directly related to the article. Politely point out inconsistencies and explain with reason what is faulty. Please avoid airing your professional squabbles with competing theories – If you have a competing theory then use the opportunity to contrast yours w/ theirs. If you do this however by couching your statements in technical jargon, it starts to look more like obfuscation than refutation so look for the clear points of departure and talk about that in a brief and cincise way if you can.

    Show some respect for the bloggers: If they were scientists they’d probably be working in the field and would have little time for writing on a blog of this sort. If something isn’t crystal clear or exactly correct – it may be a minor error in language or typing. Not every mistake is an attempt to subvert all of science! Nor does it indicate that the writer is a moron.

    Lay people, ask questions and make observations but maintain a willingness to learn. If something is beyond belief in your opinion say so but please try to avoid statements of absolute certainty – our relative universe may turn out to be far more mysterious any of our brains can comprehend.

    Final words:
    Trolls don’t need to be confronted, they need to be ignored.

  10. p, if you think we have plenty of empirical evidence that Sagittarius A* is a black hole then you probably also think there is plenty of empirical evidence for invisible pink unicorns on Noah’s Ark.

    “…the ‘Schwarzschild singularities’ do not exist in physical reality.” — Albert Einstein, 1939

  11. What might Einstein have said in 1989 or ’99 or even today? I doubt it would have anything to do with pink unicorns visible or otherwise.

    Einstein was brilliant but not infallable nor did he have the benefit of today’s dramatically greater tools of observation. Though not directly observable, Black holes are generally accepted because they offer (part of) a plausible explanation for what is driving the observed motions of galaxies.

    Another part of that explanation, the Sparkly Orange Unicorn perhaps would be Dark Matter but I don’t want to cause any ceasures among the unbelievers.

    Alternate theories OillsMastery?

  12. The alternate theory is called Plasma Cosmology.

    “The long and constant persuasion that all the forces of nature are mutually dependent, having one common origin, or rather being different manifestations of one fundamental power, has often made me think on the possibility of establishing, by experiment, a connection between gravity and electricity …no terms could exaggerate the value of the relation they would establish.” — Michael Faraday, physicist, 1865

    “[The] phenomena of electrical discharge are exceedingly important, and when they are better understood they will probably throw great light on the nature of electricity as well as on the nature of gases and of the medium pervading space.” — James C. Maxwell, physicist, 1873

    “…the great truth, accidentally revealed and experimentally confirmed, is fully recognized, that this planet, with all its appalling immensity, is to electric currents virtually no more than a small metal ball….” — Nikola Tesla, physicist, 1904

    “What we call mass would seem to be nothing but an appearance, and all inertia to be of electromagnetic origin.” — Henri Poincaré, physicist, 1908

    “An atom differs from the solar system by the fact that it is not gravitation that makes the electrons go round the nucleus, but electricity.” — Bertrand Russell, physicist/philosopher, 1924

    “Gravitation is an electromagnetic phenomenon.” — Immanuel Velikovsky, cosmologist, 1946

    “The first decade of space research mainly concentrated on the exploration of space near the Earth: the magnetosphere and interplanetary space. These regions earlier were supposed to be void and structureless but we now know that they are filled with plasmas, intersected by sheathlike discontinuities, and permeated by a complicated pattern of electric currents and electric and magnetic fields.” — Hannes Alfvén, physicist, 1970

  13. OillsMastery,

    I think I heard this discussed on Art Bell’s radio program. These quotes, such as they are, don’t appear to me to form a coherent theory – at least not one I could reconstruct but I’ll try to read more about it on line.


  14. May I suggest that the big-bang propelled outwards from a point “seed” black holes.
    At the black hole boundary matter and anti-matter is spontaneously created and the anti-matter falls into the black hole leaving the matter to form first gas then eventually the stars of a galaxy. Hence the galaxy grows and the black hole grows at the same rate.This is why we have new stars forming near the centre of the galaxy and the oldest stars are at the outer edge of each galaxy. In each galaxy the anti-matter and the matter mathematically cancel out . So the total energy (mass) cancels out to equal zero in the unniverse.

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