Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gas That Fuels Star Formation Identified

Two stills of galactic gas from the Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) simulation. Represented here is a Milky Way mass halo, with colors denoting different densities. Magenta shows cold molecular/atomic gas (T < 1000 K). Green shows warm ionized gas (10e4 < T < 10e5 K). Red shows hot gas (T > 10e6 K). Left box is at high redshift, and the right is at present day. A more relaxed, well-ordered disc has formed, with molecular gas tracing spiral structure, and a halo enriched by diffuse hot outflows. (Credit: Philip Hopkins/Caltech)

Astronomers have identified for the first time one of the key components of many stars, study suggests. A type of gas found in the voids between galaxies - known as atomic gas - can be part of the star formation process under certain conditions, researchers say. It was previously thought that stars could form only in the presence of a different type of gas - called molecular gas.

The findings overturn a long-standing theory about the conditions needed for star formation to take place - a process that happens when dense clouds of dust and gas inside galaxies collapse.

"We pieced together all the information, and found that stars may in fact form out of atomic gas, which was previously believed to be impossible," said Michal Michalowski, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy.

Atomic gas is usually found in regions of space that do not contain any planets or stars and are largely empty, researchers say.

Molecular gas is present in the densest parts of galaxies, where most planets and stars form.

The study provides the first evidence that atomic gas can fuel star formation.

This happens when atomic gas flows into galaxies but does not have time to convert to the molecular form, the team says.

The discovery was made by studying galaxies in which explosions of massive stars - known as gamma-ray bursts - have been observed.

It was thought the stars formed from molecular gas, but recent studies have shown these galaxies to be almost entirely deficient in molecular gas.

Researchers measured the levels of atomic gas present in the galaxies.

The team found they contain large amounts of atomic gas, distributed close to gamma-ray bursts, suggesting it can act as the fuel for star formation.

Stars form in the same way regardless of the type of gas involved, scientists say.

The study, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The research was carried out in collaboration with researchers at institutions across Europe, the US and Australia.

2 comments:

  1. Never say never comes to mind , always the chance that new knowledge will force us to rethink what we think we are so sure we know everything about , especially in this field. Remember Thomas Carlyle - I don't pretend to know all about the Universe. It's much bigger than me , one ought be more humble ! ...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Never say never comes to mind , always the chance that new knowledge will force us to rethink what we think we are so sure we know everything about , especially in this field. Remember Thomas Carlyle - I don't pretend to know all about the Universe. It's much bigger than me , one ought be more humble ! ...

    ReplyDelete