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Home >> Sci-Edu
UPDATED: 12:20, June 01, 2005
Spitzer telescope witnesses massive stars' birth: NASA
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A new image by NASA's Spitzer telescope revealed how a few monstrous stars spawned a diverse community of additional stars, scientists said on Tuesday.

This striking picture shows an eclectic mix of embryonic stars living in the neighborhood of one of the most famous massive stars in the Milky Way galaxy, Eta Carinae, said NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that operates Spitzer.

Astronomers said radiation and winds from Eta Carinae and its massive siblings ripped apart the surrounding cloud of gas and dust, shocking the new stars into being.

"We knew that stars were forming in this region before, but Spitzer has shown us that the whole environment is swarming with embryonic stars of an unprecedented multitude of different masses and ages," said Robert Gehrz, a Spitzer team scientist from University of Minnesota.

Previous visible-light images of this region, called the Carina Nebula, show cloudy finger-like pillars of dust, all pointing toward Eta Carinae at the center. Spitzer's infrared eyes cut through much of this dust to expose incubating stars embedded inside the pillars, as well as new star-studded pillars never before seen.

Eta Carinae, located 10,000 light-years from Earth, was once the second brightest star in the sky. More than 100 times the mass of the Sun, it is too massive to hold itself together.

Over the years, it has brightened and faded as material has shot away from its surface. Some astronomers think Eta Carinae might die in a supernova blast within our lifetime.

Eta Carinae's home, the Carina Nebula, is also quite big, stretching across 200 light-years of space. This colossal cloud of gas and dust not only gave birth to Eta Carinae, but also to a handful of slightly less massive sibling stars.

When massive stars like these are born, they rapidly begin to shred to pieces the very cloud that nurtured them, forcing gas and dust to clump together and collapse into new stars.

The process continues to spread outward, triggering successive generations of fewer and fewer stars. Our own sun may have grown up in a similar environment, astronomers said.

The new Spitzer image offers astronomers a detailed "family tree" of the Carina Nebula. At the top of the hierarchy are the grandparents, Eta Carinae and its siblings, and below them are the generations of progeny of different sizes and ages.

"Now we have a controlled experiment for understanding how one giant gas and dust cloud can produce such a wide variety of stars, " said Gehrz.

The results were presented by Nathan Smith, lead investigator of the Spitzer findings, at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Source: Xinhua

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