Monday, November 23, 2009

Massive Stars: Magnetic Fields Involved in Their Formation

"Magnetic Assist Helps Big Stars Form" (November 23, 2009)

"Massive stars in the process of forming likely rely on magnetic fields to steer gas onto their surfaces and help them grow into adults, according to new images.

"The findings come from radio observations of a young protostar called Source I (pronounced "Source Eye") next to the Orion nebula, which sits in the constellation's sword. The star has been around no more than 100,000 years. Our sun, by comparison, is 4.6 billion years old and middle-aged.

"Scientists know a thing or two about how low-mass stars like the sun form. But they have been puzzled over the birth of high-mass stars that weigh in at eight solar masses and greater, in part because the massive stars are rare and spend their youths enshrouded by a veil of dust and gas.

" 'We know how these stars die, but not how they are born,' said study researcher Lincoln Greenhill of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. ..."

The trick, this time, was to "look" at the very young, very massive, stars at radio wavelengths. Our eyes pick up much higher wavelengths, which works fine for us. But "visible light" is easily blocked by the clouds of gas and dust that surround forming stars. That gas and dust is fairly transparent to electromagnetic radiation at radio wavelengths.

One of the puzzles about very massive stars, was working out how gravity could pull enough matter together to form them. Turns out, there's evidence that magnetic fields are involved, too.

This knowledge won't help this household keep the sidewalk shoveled this winter - but I think there's more to life than shoveling snow and eating.

And, of course, watching television.

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