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Starless Cloud Cores Reveal Why Some Stars Are Bigger Than Others

December 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Credit: Bill Saxton & Alexandra Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Credit: Bill Saxton & Alexandra Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Massive stars – those at least 8 times the mass of our Sun – present an intriguing mystery: how do they grow so large when the vast majority of stars in the Milky Way are considerably smaller?

To find the answer, astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope to survey the cores of some of the darkest, coldest, and densest clouds in our Galaxy to search for the telltale signs of star formation.

To find the answer, astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope to survey the cores of some of the darkest, coldest, and densest clouds in our Galaxy to search for the telltale signs of star formation.

Since these cloud cores are so massive and dense, gravity should have already overwhelmed their supporting gas pressure, allowing them to collapse to form new, Sun-mass stars. If a star had not yet begun to shine, that would be a hint that something extra was supporting the cloud.

“A starless core would indicate that some force was balancing out the pull of gravity, regulating star formation, and allowing vast amounts of material to accumulate in a scaled-up version of the way our own Sun formed,” remarked Jonathan Tan, an astrophysicist at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and lead author of a paper published today in the Astrophysical Journal. “This suggests that massive stars and Sun-like stars follow a universal mechanism for star formation. The only difference is the size of their parent clouds.”

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