A recently released image of 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, reveals thin cobweb-like strands of gas revealing a dramatic battle between gravity and stellar energy that could give astronomers a idea of how massive stars shaped this star formation. region and why they continue to be born in this molecular cloud.
The high-resolution image of the Tarantula Nebula, located 170,000 light-years from Earth, is made up of data collected by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, the Tarantula Nebula is one of the brightest star-forming regions in our galactic backyard. It is also one of the most active in terms of the birth of new stars, some of which have masses more than 150 times greater than those of the sun. At the heart of the Large Magellanic Cloud is a stellar nursery that has given birth to 800,000 stars, including half a million hot, young, massive stars.
This makes the nebula a prime target for researchers looking to study star formation, and it has another unique property that makes it an exciting prospect for research.
“What makes 30 Doradus unique is that it is close enough that we can study in detail how stars form, and yet its properties are similar to those found in galaxies far, far away when the Universe was young. “, said the European Space Agency (ESA). scientist Guido De Marchi, a scientist with the European Space Agency and co-author of a paper describing the work, said in the statement. “With 30 Doradus, we can study how stars formed 10 billion years ago, when most stars were born.”
The Battle to Give Birth to More Massive Stars
The “push and pull” researchers observed are created by the energy provided by its huge population of stars and gravity, with the former tearing clouds of gas into strand-like fragments thus slowing star formation. , and the latter attempting to gather the clouds of gas to form stars.
“These fragments may be the remnants of once larger clouds that have been shredded by the enormous energy released by young, massive stars, a process called feedback,” said Tony Wong, a professor in the astronomy department of the University of Illinois at Urbana. -Champaign said in a press release from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) (opens in a new tab).
The results also showed that despite intense stellar feedback, gravity is still shaping the nebula – which is located 170,000 light-years from Earth and next to the Milky Way – and driving the continued formation of massive stars.
This contradicts previous consensus on such star-forming regions which suggested that thin strands of gas as seen in the Tarantula Nebula should be too disturbed by this feedback to allow gravity to pull them together and form. new stars.
“Our results imply that even in the presence of a very strong feedback, gravity can exert a strong influence and lead to further star formation,” Wong continued.
Observing the Tarantula Web tuft by tuft
Given its properties, it’s no surprise that the Tarantula Nebula has been well studied. What makes this new research different is that previous studies have focused primarily on its center – the site of the densest gas and therefore the fastest star formation – astronomers are aware of stars colliding with. also form in other regions of the nebula as this team collected high-resolution observations of a large region of the Tarantula Nebula rather than focusing on its core. With this overall view of the nebula in mind, they then split it into clusters which revealed a surprising pattern.
“We used to think of interstellar gas clouds as puffy or rounded structures, but it’s increasingly clear that they look like strings or filaments,” Wong said in a press release from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). (opens in a new tab). “When we split the cloud into clumps to measure the density differences, we observed that the densest clumps are not randomly placed but are highly organized on these filaments.”
By focusing on the light emitted by carbon monoxide, the researchers were able to map the large, cold gas clouds of the Tarantula Nebula that are collapsing to form infant stars. They also observed how these gas clouds change when these young stars release a huge amount of energy.
“We expected to find that the parts of the cloud closest to young massive stars would show the clearest signs of gravity overwhelmed by feedback,” Wong said. (opens in a new tab) “Rather, we found that gravity is still important in those feedback-exposed regions, at least for sufficiently dense parts of the cloud.”
Overlaying data collected by ALMA and an infrared image of the Tarantula Nebula showing bright stars and glowing hot gases from the Very Large Telescope and the Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VIS (opens in a new tab)TA) creates a composite image that shows the extent of its gas clouds and their distinct web-like shape.
While the team’s findings give an indication of how gravity affects star-forming regions, the research is a work in progress. “There is still much to do with this fantastic dataset, and we are releasing it publicly to encourage other researchers to conduct further investigations,” Wong concluded.
Future studies will also focus on the differences between the Milky Way and the Tarantula Nebula, including star formation rates – while our galaxy regularly forms stars, the Tarantula Nebula does so in cycles of ” boom and bust”.
The Tarantula Nebula research was presented at the 240th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Pasadena, California on June 15. The results are also presented in an Astrophysical Journal article.
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