Debunking earlier theories that big stars form within very massive, isolated ‘cores’ weighing at least 100 times the mass of the sun, research offers insights into how cosmic seeds can grow into massive stars.
Astrophysicists studied Snake nebula which is located about 11,700 light years from earth from Smithsonian’s Submillimeter Array (SMA) telescope.
It was targeted because it shows the potential to form many massive stars – stars heavier than eight times our sun.
“High-mass stars form in villages. It is a family affair,” said Qizhou Zhang of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Massachusetts.
“To learn how stars form, we have to catch them in their earliest phases, while they are still deeply embedded in clouds of gas and dust, and the SMA is an excellent telescope to do so,” explained lead author Ke Wang of the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
The team studied two specific spots within the Snake nebula, designated P1 and P6.
Within those two regions, they detected a total of 23 cosmic ‘seeds’ – faintly glowing spots that will eventually birth one or a few stars.
The seeds generally weigh between 5 and 25 times the mass of the sun and each spans only a few thousand astronomical units (the average earth-sun distance).
The team was surprised to find that these nebular patches had fragmented into individual star seeds so early in the star formation process.
They detected bipolar outflows and other signs of active, ongoing star formation.
Eventually, the Snake nebula will dissolve and shine as a chain of several star clusters, said the study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.