Enormous collapsing clouds of cosmic gas and dust may yield clues on how massive stars form, which is an enduring mystery of astronomy.
One such cloud, called BYF73, has been studied by a research team using CSIRO’s Mopra radio telescope. Peter Barnes, an Australian researcher working at the University of Florida in the US, leads the team. The massive hydrogen cloud is collapsing in on itself and will probably form a huge cluster of young stars.
Observations of clouds like BYF73 allow astronomers to test theories of massive star formation in great detail. Astronomers already have a good grasp of how stars such as our Sun develop from clouds of gas and dust. But for heavier stars—more than ten times the mass of the Sun—they are largely in the dark, despite years of work.
“Massive stars are rare and they will only form when large clouds of gas collapse,” Peter explains. “Most are well over 1,000 light years away, making them hard to observe.”
Follow-up observations made with the Anglo-Australian Telescope showed signs of massive young stars that have already formed at the centre of the BYF73 gas clump.