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The spectacular ins and outs of starbirth

14 Jul 2020, 13:00 UTC
The spectacular ins and outs of starbirth
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After centuries of wondering, we're starting to get a pretty good understanding of how stars are born.

It's been pretty clear that they condense out of clouds of gas and dust called nebulae. But how, exactly?

New observations of a distant nebula called G286.21+0.17 (also called BYF73, so let's go with that, shall we?) has some pretty good clues. It's about 8,000 light years away, part of the immense Carina star-forming complex which itself is a collection of dozens of nebulae all churning out stars. BYF73 is forming a cluster of stars, hundreds or thousands of stars all born more or less at the same time, held together into a group by their own gravity.

Astronomers observed BYF73 using Hubble as well as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (or ALMA), and what they found was almost literally a pipeline of gas into and out of the nebula:

Stars and gas seen by Hubble (red and yellow) together with long filaments of cold gas by ALMA (purple) start to show a complete picture of star formation. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Y. Cheng et al.; NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello; NASA/ESA Hubble.

Whoa. It looks pretty chaotic, but in fact this is a fairly well-organized ...

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