Credit: ESO/S. Guisard; Column-density maps: J.Kainulainen, MPIAView full size imagedimensional reconstruction of cloud structure fromwhich the astronomers derived a so-called 'recipefor star formation.'
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The birth of stars
Stars are born when pockets of gas and dust within interstellar molecular clouds exceed critical density and collapse under theiown gravity. Once the pressure and the temperature inside get high enough for nuclear fusion to ignite, it creates a star. The ratat which stars form depends mainly on the number and density of these clumps within stellar nurseries.Scientists have now used one feature of these clouds to better understand star formation. As the light of distant stars penetratesthrough a stellar nursery, the molecular cloud's dust dims the light. By measuring how this process dims thousands of differentstars, scientists can reconstruct the cloud's 3D structure, helping pinpoint how matter is distributed within the cloud.Using data from 16 nearby molecular clouds, each within about 850 light-years of Earth, "we could devise a very concreterecipe for how new stars are born in the interstellar gas clouds," study lead author Jouni Kainulainen, an astrophysicist at theMax Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, told Space.com. "And the ingredients of this recipe are simple tounderstand — only those regions in the clouds in which density is higher than about 5,000 molecules per cubic centimeterproduce stars, and about a tenth of the gas in these regions collapses into the new stars."
A clue for cosmic clouds
One key consequence of these findings "is that we have given astronomers a new tool to estimate the rates at which molecularclouds form stars, without even seeing the new stars in the clouds," Kainulainen said. "I quote my collaborator ThomasHenning — 'Show us your image of a cloud, and we can tell you how much it forms stars right now.'"Such a capability "gives us a great possibility to use new, powerful telescopes such as the Atacama LargeMillimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to observe gas clouds in the galaxy and better map its star-formation capacity,"Kainulainen said. ALMA consists of 66 high-precision microwave antennas spread over distances of up to 10 miles (16kilometers) in the Chilean desert, which can act like a single, high-resolution telescope. The array has just commencedoperations.Intriguingly, the researchers found it was simpler for stars to form in these clouds than once predicted by theory. But thefindings have yet to address the question of how galaxies and supermassive black holes formed in the early universe,Kainulainen said. "I think it is currently too early to speculate about the possible effects of our findings to the early universe,"he said."We have to remember that physical conditions during the early galaxy formation were quite different from those of thegalaxies today," Kainulainen said. "It would be an unreasonable leap in conclusions to assume that the process of star formatiowould proceed exactly in the same way as in the current, local universe. Our results are best applicable to spiral galaxies suchas the Milky Way in the local universe."Future studies should address the assumptions made in creating the team's 3D models for the molecular clouds, Kainulainen
Simple Recipe for Star Formation Revealed | Space.comhttp://www.space.com/25434-star-formation-recipe-revealed.html of 74/10/2014 7:42 PM