Images could reveal how stars are born

·2-min read

While Hollywood has its own ideas about how a star is born, astronomers have released a series of images helping to reveal why the brightest lights form in space.

Using observations from the world's most powerful telescopes, scientists are examining parts of space where star formation is happening, compared to where it is expected to happen.

"This will give us a chance to better understand what triggers, boosts or holds back the birth of new stars," Rebecca McElroy from the Sydney Institute for Astronomy said.

The images show different components of galaxies near the Milky Way in distinct colours, allowing for the pinpointing of young stars and the gas they warm up around them.

To the untrained eye this looks a little like fireworks, but scientists say the stellar nurseries hold the secrets of how clouds of cold gas ignite to become stars.

While it's known stars are born in gas clouds, the catalyst for their formation and the role played by galaxies is a mystery that more than 90 scientists are trying to solve.

One of the ways they're doing so is with the use of the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer, or MUSE for short.

The high-tech instrument collects spectra, the "bar codes" of light that can be scanned to show the properties and nature of objects in the cosmos.

The MUSE observations have been used in combination with radio wavelength signals from 66 dish-shaped antennas that form the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

ALMA observations allowed for the mapping of 100,000 cold gas regions across 90 galaxies, while MUSE observed 30,000 clouds of warm gas.

"MUSE has given us an unprecedented view of what's going on inside galaxies," the University of Western Australia's Brent Groves said.

"By combining these observations with those from ALMA, we're able to see newborn stars while they're still surrounded by the blanket of gas they've formed from.

"The resulting images are absolutely stunning, they allow us a spectacularly colourful insight into the stellar nurseries of our neighbouring galaxies."

The work is part of the Physics at High Angular Resolution in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS) project which also features observations from NASA's Hubble Space telescope.

Observatories were selected so the team could scan earth's galactic neighbours at different wavelengths; visible, near-infrared and sub-millimetre.

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