Astronomers See Massive Stars Forming Together in Multiple Star Systems

This false-color image of the massive star formation region G333.23–0.06 came from data obtained with the ALMA radio observatory. The insets show regions where researchers detected multiple systems of protostars. The star symbols indicate the location of each newly forming star. Image Credit: S. Li, MPIA / J. Neidel, MPIA Graphics Department / Data: ALMA Observatory

All stars form in giant molecular clouds of hydrogen. But some stars are extraordinarily massive; the most massive one we know of is about 200 times more massive than the Sun. How do these stars gain so much mass?

Part of the answer is that they form in multiple star systems.

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The Youngest Planetary Disks Ever Seen

The evolutionary sequence of protoplanetary disks with substructures, from the ALMA CAMPOS survey. These wide varieties of planetary disk structures are possible formation sites for young protoplanets. Image Credit: Hsieh et al. in prep.

How long does planet formation take? Maybe not as long as we thought, according to new research. Observations with the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) show that planet formation around young stars may begin much earlier than scientists thought.

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Young Stars in the Outskirts of Galaxies Finally Have an Explanation

Star formation is well understood when it happens in the populous centers of galaxies. From our vantage point on Earth, within the Milky Way, we see it happening all around us. But when newborn stars are birthed in the empty outskirts of galactic space, it requires a new kind of explanation. At the 243rd meeting of the American Astronomical Association yesterday, astronomers announced that they have observed, for the first time, the unique molecular clouds that give rise to star formation near the remote edges of galaxies.

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The Oldest Known Spiral Galaxy Has Ripples Like the Surface of a Pond

This simulation illustrates a galaxy disk being disturbed, leading to the propagation of a seismic ripple throughout the disk. (Credit: Bland-Hawthorn and Tepper-Garcia, University of Sydney).

Astronomers have detected pond-like ripples across the gaseous disk of an ancient galaxy. What caused the ripples, and what do they tell us about the distant galaxy’s formation and evolution? And whatever happened, how has it affected the galaxy and its main job: forming stars?

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ALMA Takes Next-Level Images of a Protoplanetary Disk

This ALMA image of the young star HL Tauri shows rings of dust surrounding the star. The line patterns show the orientation of polarized light. It's the deepest dust polarization image of any protoplanetary disk captured thus far, revealing details about the dust grains in the disk. Credit: NSF/AUI/NRAO/B. Saxton/Stephens et al.

The ESO’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is perched high in the Chilean Andes. ALMA is made of 66 high-precision antennae that all work together to observe light just between radio and infrared. Its specialty is cold objects, and in recent years, it has taken some stunning and scientifically illuminating images of protoplanetary disks and the planets forming in them.

But its newest image supersedes them all.

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Sometimes Compact Galaxies Hide Their Black Holes

Illustration of an active quasar. What role does its dark matter halo play in activating the quasar? Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser
Illustration of an active quasar. New research shows that SMBHs eat rapidly enough to trigger them. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Quasars, short for quasi-stellar objects, are one of the most powerful and luminous classes of objects in our Universe. A subclass of active galactic nuclei (AGNs), quasars are extremely bright galactic cores that temporarily outshine all the stars in their disks. This is due to the supermassive black holes in the galactic cores that consume material from their accretion disks, a donut-shaped ring of gas and dust that orbit them. This matter is accelerated to close to the speed of light and slowly consumed, releasing energy across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

Based on past observations, it is well known to astronomers that quasars are obscured by the accretion disk that surrounds them. As powerful radiation is released from the SMBH, it causes the dust and gas to glow brightly in visible light, X-rays, gamma-rays, and other wavelengths. However, according to a new study led by researchers from the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy (CEA) at Durham University, quasars can also be obscured by the gas and dust of their entire host galaxies. Their findings could help astronomers better understand the link between SMBHs and galactic evolution.

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Do The Gaps in Protoplanetary Disks Really Indicate Newly Forming Planets?

Artist depiction of a protoplanetary disk in which planets are forming. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Roughly 5 billion years ago Earth was in the process of forming. Gas and dust gathered with the young Sun’s protoplanetary disk, likely nudged a bit by the resonant gravitational pull of Jupiter and other large worlds. One can imagine that as Earth formed it swept its orbit clear of debris, leaving a gap in the disk visible from light years away. While we know this tale is reasonably accurate, the idea that planets such as Earth always clear gaps in a protoplanetary disk likely isn’t.

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Water’s Epic Journey to Earth Began Before the Sun Formed

This artist’s impression shows the planet-forming disc around the star V883 Orionis. New research shows how water starts its journey in the gas cloud that forms the star, and eventually ends its journey on Earth. Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

The origins of Earth’s water is a complicated mystery that scientists have been untangling for decades. Life is impossible without water, so the origin of Earth’s life-giving water is a foundational question. As the power of our telescopes grows, researchers have made meaningful headway on the question.

Previous research uncovered links between Earth’s water and the Solar System’s comets and icy planetesimals. But newer research follows the chain back even further in time to when the Sun itself had yet to form.

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This Star is Blasting Out a Concentrated Jet of Material at 500 km/s

A team of astronomers was studying the masers around oddball star MWC 349A when they discovered something unexpected: a previously unseen jet of material launching from the star’s gas disk at impossibly high speeds. Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), M. Weiss (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

MWC 349A is a star about 3,900 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. It’s huge, about 38 times as massive as the Sun. It’s actually a binary star and may even be a triple star. It’s an oddball and one of the brightest sources of radio emission in the sky.

One of the star’s unusual features is its natural maser. MWC 349A’s natural maser played a central role in a new discovery: the young star emits a blistering jet of material travelling at 500 km/sec (310 m/sec.) That discovery could help astronomers understand massive stars and their complexity.

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Baby Gas Giants Cast Shadows on Their Siblings

A computer-generated image depicting a dark protostellar disk seen edge-on at 90 degrees to jets (orange) emanating from the poles of a young star. Such disks are thought to be the precursors of planetary systems, with planets forming as the dust coalesces. RIKEN researchers may have spotted embryos of gas giant planets in one protostellar disk. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

A team of astronomers has caught glimpses of gas giants forming around a very young star.

The nascent giants are having a chilling effect on their potential siblings.

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