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New Findings Suggest That We’re Wrong About How Stars Form

Large Magellanic Cloud, Credit: Hubble


Astronomers have found something entirely unexpected in the Large Magellanic Cloud – a neighbouring galaxy to the Milky Way. When calculating the ages of the stars in this small galaxy, they found a group of 15 that were far younger than other stars within the same cluster – a discovery that’s entirely at odds with a well-established model of how we think these incredibly abundant objects in the Universe actually form.

Theory Contradicts

“Our models of stellar evolution are based on the assumption that stars within star clusters formed from the same material at roughly the same time,” says lead researcher Bi-Qing For, from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Western Australia.

Star clusters are groups of stars that are bound together by gravity, and traditional models have assumed that all stars within the same cluster formed from the same cloud of molecular gas.
That means these fundamental building blocks of galaxies were thought to form in a single era of star formation, giving rise to thousands or millions of stars that have the same age and chemical composition.
But the problem now is that those assumptions might actually be false.
By comparing the locations of several thousand stars with the locations of the star clusters, For and her team found what appears to be 15 ‘stellar candidates’ that are much younger than other stars within the same cluster – and seven are located right in the very center.

Explanation and new assumptions

The most obvious explanation is that the stars formed from molecular gas leaking into the cluster from interstellar space – once the older star cluster had appeared, new star-forming gasses crept in and formed a younger generation.
Instead, the researchers think these young stars were seeded within their cluster by the old stars. If this assumption is correct, it means star clusters could be home to a number of star generations all caught up in the same space.

“We believe the younger stars have actually been created out of the matter ejected from older stars as they die, which would mean we have discovered multiple generations of stars belonging to the same cluster,” For explains.

Journal reference: the Royal Astronomical Society.
Article reference: ScienceAlert


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