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NASA Delivers New Insight Into Star-Cluster Formation

Published on 09 May 2014

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Washington, D.C.

Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and infrared telescopes, astronomers have made an important advance in the understanding of how clusters of stars come into being.

The data show early notions of how star clusters are formed cannot be correct. The simplest idea is stars form into clusters when a giant cloud of gas and dust condenses. The center of the cloud pulls in material from its surroundings until it becomes dense enough to trigger star formation. This implies that the stars in the middle of the cluster form first and are the oldest.

However, the latest data from Chandra suggest something else is happening. Researchers studied two clusters where sun-like stars currently are forming: NGC 2024, located in the center of the Flame Nebula (above), and the Orion Nebula Cluster. They discovered the stars on the outskirts of the clusters actually are the oldest.

“Our findings are counterintuitive,” said Konstantin Getman of Pennsylvania State University, who led the study. “It means we need to think harder and come up with more ideas of how stars like our sun are formed.”

In the picture of the Flame Nebula above, X-rays from Chandra are seen as purple, while infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope are colored red, green and blue.

For more on the research and the researchers’ other ideas, see this NASA press release.



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Posted 2014-05-09 09:50:00