Sunday, April 7, 2013

A New Star is Born!

Cep OB 3b is the name of a new star cluster found within the constellation of Cepheus in the Northern Hemisphere. The new area of star formation has been investigated by a team of researchers at Kitt Peak Observatory in the United States.

The image below was created through a combination of images using different filters on the 0.9 metre telescope at the observatory using wide filed imaging. The filters used include blue, visual, infra-red and an emission line of hydrogen, with intense ultraviolet radiation essentially destroying everything within its path.

As observed in the image, the brightest visible star towards the centre of the image is not in the cluster, but rather in between us and it. Also visible are other bright young stars which are heating the gas and dust and blowing remaining dust away. Also visible are thousands of smaller stars within the cluster which are in the process of forming planetary systems.

The process of star birth is a very slow process- one which takes place over tens of millions of years. Most stars form within massive star clusters, including our own Sun, which eventually drift apart from each other when the remaining gas and dust are blown away by the stellar wind. An example of a relatively new star cluster is the Pleiades star cluster, part of the Taurus constellation which is only 100 million years in age, which is relatively new in stellar terms. It is believed that Cep OB3b is also very similar to the famous star birth region- The Orion Nebula.

Cep OB3b is easy to spot from our vantage point due to the little amounts of gas and dust obscuring our view, which also helps us to clearly observe the newly formed cluster. Therefore researchers such as Thomas Allen from the University of Toledo have been observing this new region of star formation. Further research from a published paper from Allen and an international team of astronomers from seven different Universities and Institutes (University of Toledo, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Rochester, University of Exeter, Keele University, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Space Telescope Science Institute) have found that the total number of young stars in the cluster is as high as 3000.

The majority of stars within Cep OB3b are approximately three million years old, however many of the stars within this cluster had already lost their disk of gas and dust, which presented the idea that many of the stars were much older than three million years, suggesting that the cluster is surrounded by much older stars, perhaps from older clusters in which the gas and dust had already dispersed throughout the universe leaving just the star.

Study within the cluster attempts to answer some questions about astronomy, including the observation of the process and history of star birth and formation within this area.

Image Credit: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), T. Allen (University of Toledo) and WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF (

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