Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Massive Star Formation

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Massive Star Formation

Article excerpt

New observations by University of Michigan (U-M) astronomers add weight to the idea that the most massive stars in the universe could form essentially anywhere, including in near isolation; they do not need a large stellar cluster nursery.

This is the most detailed observational study to date of massive stars that appear (from the ground) to be alone. The scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to zoom in on eight of these giants, which range from 20 to 150 times as massive as the Sun. The stars are in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that is one of the Milky Way's nearest neighbors.

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The results, published in the Astrophysical Journal, show that five of the stars had no neighbors large enough for Hubble to discern. The remaining three appeared to be in tiny clusters of 10 or fewer stars.

Doctoral student Joel Lamb and associate professor Sally Oey, both in the Department of Astronomy at U-M, explain the significance of their findings.

"My dad used to fish in a tiny pond on his grandma's farm," Lamb says. "One day he pulled out a giant largemouth bass. This was the biggest fish he's caught, and he's fished in a lot of big lakes. What we're looking at is analogous to this. We're asking: 'Can a small pond produce a giant fish?' ... Our results show that you can, in fact, form big stars in small ponds."

The most massive stars direct the evolution of their galaxies. …

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