Sunday, April 7, 2013

Extremely Young Stellar Outflow

Recent advances in submillimeter and infrared telescopes have made it possible for astronomers to study the early stages of star formation in greater detail. These telescopes allow us to see past the heavy veil of dust and gas and into the stellar delivery room. One day astronomers hope to be able to see into the very heart of cosmic “wombs” and witness the first stage of star development. The more advanced our telescopes become, the closer we get to that very moment.

The juvenile star, IRAS 16293-2922B is approximately 10,000 years old and located in the constellation Ophiuchus. This star is slightly smaller than our Sun and is still nestled deep in its stellar nursery actually pulling in surrounding gaseous material and accreting it, forming a circumstellar disk.

This new study has allowed astronomers to observe processes integral to early star development. One such process is how these infant stars halt angular momentum. Just as a figure skater gains momentum by pulling in his or her arms in during a spin, the material surrounding a young star is pulled by gravity and slight rotational motions will form. The force exerted back on the star needs to be relieved so the bipolar jets are produced. How exactly these jets form is still a mystery but they are essential in assisting the star’s growth.

A team of astronomers including David Wilner and Paul Ho are using the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a group of sixty six 12-meter and 7-meter diameter telescopes to observe infant stars like IRAS 16293-2922B. This is part of an international research effort with emphasis on star birth. Observations show the outflow coming from IRAS 16293-2922B could be as young as 200 years old!

The image shown here is a false-color infrared image of the star-forming region in Ophiuchus where IRAS 16293-2922B can be found. Many of the youngest known protostars have been discovered here.


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