A new discovery has the possible to answer the long-standing question of how massive stars are born -- and hints at the option that planets could form around the galaxy's biggest bodies.
"Astronomers have long been unclear about how the most massive stars form," said Stefan Kraus, a NASA Sagan Exoplanet Fellow and astronomer at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "Because they tend to be at very large distances and bounded by dusty envelopes, it's very hard to separate and closely observe them."
To get a better look, Kraus' team used the Very Large Telescope Interferometer of the European Southern Observatory in Chile to focus on IRAS 13481-6124, a star situated at a distance of 10,000 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, and about 20 times more massive than our sun. "We were able to get a very sharp view into the deepest regions around this star by combining the light of separate telescopes," Kraus said, "essentially mimicking the resolving power of a telescope with an incredible 85-meter [280-foot] mirror."
The team's observations yielded a jackpot result: the discovery of a massive disk of dust and gas encircling the giant young star. "It's the first time something like this has been experiential," Kraus said. "The disk very much resembles what we see around young stars that are much smaller, except everything is scaled up and more massive."
The presence of the disk is strong evidence that even the very main stars in the galaxy form by the same process as smaller ones -- growing out of the dense growth of vast quantities of gas and dust, rather than the merging of smaller stars, as had been previously suggested by some scientists. The results were confirmed by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. "We looked at archival images of the star taken by Spitzer, and confirmed that the star is flinging disk material outward from its polar regions, just as we see with minor stars and their dust disks," Kraus said.
The discovery also opens up the prospect that planets, perhaps even Earth-like ones, may be able to form around massive stars like IRAS 13481-6124, in the same way that they formed around our sun when it was much younger. "In the future, we might be able to see gaps in this and other dust disks formed by orbiting planets, although it is unlikely that such bodies could survive for long." Kraus said. "A planet around such a massive star would be destroyed by the strong stellar winds and intense radiation as soon as the protective disk material is gone, which leaves little chance for the development of solar systems like our own."
Still, huge stars like IRAS 13481-6124 provide the building blocks for life to arise elsewhere in the universe. "High-mass stars are where heavy elements necessary for life are created, so they are of major importance," Kraus said "This discovery is a clearer picture than we've had before and allows us to understand them better."
Spitzer formerly detected dusty disks of planetary debris around more mature massive stars, further supporting the notion that planets may form even in these extreme environments..
The recent and preceding Spitzer observations were made before the space telescope ran out of its liquid coolant in May 2009, officially beginning its warm mission.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
The Sagan Fellowship Program, administered by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI) at Caltech aims to advance the scientific and technical goals of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/news/spitzer20100714.html
0 comments to "Meet the Titans: Dust Disk Found Around Massive Star"
X-24B Precision Landings Proved That Shuttle Could Land Unpowered NASA research pilot John Manke worked through his prelaunch checklist wh...
Even though there are many advancement in technology, keeping foods fresher in space for a long period has been impossible. Research has b...
The mars rock touches the NASA curiosity this time it touches the more different from before Tasks. The mars rock is looks like some odd...
Though the sun's brightness was once thought to be constant, NASA has launched a series of satellite instruments that have helpe...
Leaner, greener flying machines for the year 2025 are on the drawing boards of three industry teams under contract to the NASA Aeronautics ...
NASA technologists will get a opportunity next summer time to experience the good old days when Organization technical engineers would conn...
Images from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) reveal an old star in the throes of a fiery outburst, spraying the cosm...
Tornado tracks from last week's powerful tornado outbreak are visible in data from NASA 's Aqua satellite and the Landsat satellite...
Himalaya made its successful debut in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Oct. 5, taking the stage as the third global node in the SERVIR Regional Visualiz...