Jun 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:38 AM EDT

Astronomers Adopt a Forming Star, Watching it Grow for 18 Years 4200 Light-Years Away

Apr 02, 2015 02:30 PM EDT


While researchers may have missed the formation of our very own Sun by a few billion years, in essence they have become surrogate parents to many other stars formed since the dawn of the telescope. Watching one such infant star well into its adulthood, researchers with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory this week released a time lapse of one such star, affectionately named "W75N(B)-VLA 2", which reveals the earliest formations of a massive young star over the course of 18 years. The beginning and ending images released this week reveal a dramatic difference in the star's developmental stages and highlights theories that astronomers have posited for decades, as they wondered if they would ever catch a glimpse of stars forming in such a way as researchers today have been able to do.

Publishing their results this week in the journal Science, the astronomers led by Carlos Carrasco-Gonzalez of the National Autonomous University of Mexico utilized the National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) to capture the unique view of W75N(B)-VLA 2, nearly 4200 light-years away. And in comparing the new images to that of 1996, the team discovered that a compact region of hot, ionized winds that they discovered many years ago is now deforming the star giving it a distinct elongated appearance.

"The comparison is remarkable" Carrasco-Gonzalez says. "We're seeing this dramatic change in real time, so this object is providing us an exciting opportunity to watch over the next few years as a young star goes through the early stages of its formation."

"In the span of only 18 years, we've seen exactly what we predicted."

Believed to be forming in a dense, gaseous environment, researchers are certain that spherical star is in fact surrounded by a doughnut-shaped torus of dusty winds that can alter not only the speed of the rotating star, but also its shape. By slowing the star, the dusty torus may be able to augment the spherical shell around the star, forcing the infant star into an elongated shape as it expands towards the outer poles of the torus.

But while the forming star is teaching researchers a lot about the development of early solar systems, models predict that what they're seeing now is quite a bit different than what our very own Sun went through. Estimated to have a weight eight times more massive than the Sun, W75N(B)-VLA 2 is thought to have much more-uniform outflows because of its size, though the fate of the star and its solar system has yet to be seen.

"Our understanding of how massive young stars develop is much less complete than our understanding of how Sun-like stars develop" Carrasco-Gonzalez says. "It's going to be really great to be able to watch one as it changes."

"We expect to learn a lot from this object."

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