Cosmic ‘fireworks’ show the birth of stars

Record of the star cluster G286.21 + 0.17, 8,000 light-years away, joined observations of radio waves and infrared images

Astronomers gathered more than 750 observations made with the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (Alma) radio telescope and nine infrared images from the Hubble Space Telescope and assembled a mosaic of the G286.21 + 0.17 star cluster. The impressive image, which looks more like a fireworks show in space, shows the birth of the stars some 8,000 light-years away.

“This image shows stars in various stages of formation within this single cluster,” explains Yu Cheng, from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, lead author of two articles published in The Astrophysical Journal (here and here).

Dense clouds made of molecular gels (the purple parts) are revealed by Alma, who captured the movements of the turbulent gas falling into the cluster, forming dense cores that finally create individual stars.

The stars are revealed by their infrared light, detected by Hubble, including a large group of stars emerging from one side of the cloud. The strong winds and the radiation of the most massive stars are blowing up the molecular clouds, leaving tiny fragments of hot and shiny dust (in yellow and red).

This animated gif shows the structure and movements (speed in the direction of the Sun) of the gas in the cluster in formation. Image: Alma (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), Y. Cheng et al .; NRAO / AUI / NSF, S. Dagnello; NASA / ESA Hubble.

“This illustrates how dynamic and magical the process of star birth is,” says study co-author Jonathan Tan of Chalmers University in Sweden. “We see competing forces in action: gravity and turbulence of the cloud on one side and stellar winds and radiation pressure from young stars on the other.”

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Hubble revealed about a thousand newly formed stars with varying masses, while Alma showed that there is much more mass present in the dense gas that still needs to collapse. “Overall, the process can take at least a million years to complete,” added Cheng.


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