Magazine article Science News

Hubble Views Stellar EGGs

Magazine article Science News

Hubble Views Stellar EGGs

Article excerpt

They look like undersea coral or stalagmites rising from the floor of a cavern. But these images reveal a far more exotic world--huge pillars of gas that constitute the birthplace of stars in the Eagle nebula, a star-forming region 7,000 light-years from Earth.

In these newly released pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, ultraviolet light from hot, fully grown stars eats away the oval tips of the pillars, known as EGGs (evaporating gaseous globules). In some cases, so much gas has boiled off that the newborn stars swaddled in the EGGs become visible.

In stripping away gas, the ultraviolet radiation not only uncovers newborns, it deprives them of the material they need to grow more massive.

"For a long time, astronomers have speculated about what processes control the sizes of stars," says Hubble investigator John J. Hester of Arizona State University in Tempe.

"Now, in [the Eagle nebula], we seem to be watching at least one such process at work right in front of our eyes. . . . In some ways it seems more like archaeology than astronomy. The ultraviolet light from nearby stars does the digging for us, and we study what is unearthed," he continues.

"This is the first time that we have actually seen the process of forming stars being uncovered by photoevaporation."

A star forms when gas in an interstellar cloud collapses under its own weight, forming a ball dense enough to ignite nuclear fuel at its core. Left to its own devices, a fledgling star uses gravity to grab additional material from its gaseous cocoon until wind from the star pushes the infalling gas aside. …

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