Observations of Outbursts in the Orion Nebula Reveal Insights into Star Formation
By observing the Orion Nebula, which is full of gas and dust, astronomers were able to see bright outbursts occurring as young stars feed on matter to gain mass. These bursts of radiation, which come from protostars (infant stars) in the Orion Nebula, the closest star-forming region to Earth, were detected using data from the former Spitzer Space Telescope. The protostars in the Orion Nebula were found to have frequent feeding episodes as they grow.
According to research, outbursts from stars tend to happen during their early stages of development, when they are around 100,000 years old. These outbursts, which are a clear indication of intense feeding as the stars consume material from disks of gas and dust around them, repeat approximately every 400 years. These bright eruptions occur as the infant stars gather mass by consuming the gas and dust around them.
The discovery of these outbursts could be an important advancement in our understanding of the physics involved in the early stages of a star’s life, including how young stars quickly gain mass. The early years of a star’s life have been difficult to study due to the fact that young stars are hidden within clouds of cool molecular gas and dust, which are the materials from which they are formed. The observations of these outbursts provide a glimpse into the process of star formation in real-time.
Protostars that are younger than 100,000 years old, known as “class 0 protostars,” tend to produce outbursts that are difficult to observe using ground-based telescopes. These outbursts occur within dense clouds of gas and dust and are rarely detected. However, between 2004 and 2017, the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope was able to observe bright flares from young stars within the Orion Nebula, which is located within a cloud of gas and dust. The telescope’s 16-year mission ended in 2020, and it was able to provide valuable insights into the early stages of star formation.
While studying 92 previously known class 0 protostars, the research team discovered three outbursts, two of which had not been previously observed. This data indicated a burst rate of about one every 400 years for these infant stars, which is more frequent than the rate of bursts observed in older protostars that are further along in their evolution. The team also estimated that these bursts last around 15 years. During the class 0 period, the protostars were found to accumulate around 50% or more of their total mass, according to data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the Herschel Space Telescope, and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). “By cosmic standards, stars grow rapidly when they are very young,” said Megeath. “It makes sense that these young stars have the most frequent bursts.”
Unraveling starbirth mysteries
The research could also provide insight into how the consumption of gas and dust from the surroundings of young protostars and the accumulation of mass might impact the formation of planets around stars. “The disks around them are all raw material for planet formation,” said Megeath. “Bursts can actually influence that material.” Understanding the processes involved in the early stages of star formation can help us better understand how planets form and evolve.
The influence of these bursts could potentially extend to the formation of molecules, grains, and crystals that can stick together to form larger structures, such as planets. This means that it is possible that the sun, which is around 4.5 billion years old, was once a “burping baby star” that underwent outbursts during its early stages of development. “The sun is a bit bigger than most stars, but there’s no reason to think that it didn’t undergo bursts,” said Megeath. “It probably did. When we witness the process of star formation, it is a window into what our own solar system was doing 4.6 billion years ago.” Studying the processes involved in the formation of other stars can provide valuable insights into the history and evolution of our own solar system.
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