Big stars are more abundant than thought

January 04, 2018

Observations of a nearby star-forming region reveal that large stars are more prevalent than models have predicted. Because the most massive stars have the biggest influence on their surroundings - through ultraviolet radiation, stellar winds, supernova explosions, and production of heavy elements - this excess of large stars will have wide-ranging implications for astrophysics. Studying massive stars is difficult, because the heaviest stars have the shortest lifetimes before exploding as supernovae. Here, Fabian Schneider and colleagues analyzed a survey by the Very Large Telescope of hundreds of stars in the region 30 Doradus (30 Dor), a cluster of young stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring galaxy to our own Milky Way. By modeling how many stars formed at each mass, and adjusting for observational biases, the authors were able to clearly determine the fraction of massive stars that were produced. There were many more stars at high masses (>30 times the mass of the Sun) than predicted by long-standing models of star formation, and the discrepancy gets bigger at the highest masses. Such a skewed distribution, known as a top-heavy initial mass function, is expected to eventually generate many more exotic objects such as black holes and neutron stars. The authors also used the data to estimate the duration of the star-forming event, finding that the burst of activity in 30 Dor happened relatively quickly, over the course of less than 10 million years.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related Star Formation Articles from Brightsurf:

Low-metallicity globular star cluster challenges formation models
On the outskirts of the nearby Andromeda Galaxy, researchers have unexpectedly discovered a globular cluster (GC) - a massive congregation of relic stars - with a very low abundance of chemical elements heavier than hydrogen and helium (known as its metallicity), according to a new study.

Astronomers turn up the heavy metal to shed light on star formation
Astronomers from The University of Western Australia's node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) have developed a new way to study star formation in galaxies from the dawn of time to today.

New observations of black hole devouring a star reveal rapid disk formation
When a star passes too close to a supermassive black hole, tidal forces tear it apart, producing a bright flare of radiation as material from the star falls into the black hole.

How galaxies die: New insights into the quenching of star formation
Astronomers studying galaxy evolution have long struggled to understand what causes star formation to shut down in massive galaxies.

The cosmic commute towards star and planet formation
Interconnected gas flows reveal how star-forming gas is assembled in galaxies.

Star formation project maps nearby interstellar clouds
Astronomers have captured new, detailed maps of three nearby interstellar gas clouds containing regions of ongoing high-mass star formation.

Scientists discover pulsating remains of a star in an eclipsing double star system
Scientists from the University of Sheffield have discovered a pulsating ancient star in a double star system, which will allow them to access important information on the history of how stars like our Sun evolve and eventually die.

Distant milky way-like galaxies reveal star formation history of the universe
Thousands of galaxies are visible in this radio image of an area in the Southern Sky, made with the MeerKAT telescope.

Cascades of gas around young star indicate early stages of planet formation
What does a gestating baby planet look like? New research in Nature by a team including Carnegie's Jaehan Bae investigated the effects of three planets in the process of forming around a young star, revealing the source of their atmospheres.

Massive exoplanet orbiting tiny star challenges planet formation theory
Astronomers have discovered a giant Jupiter-like exoplanet in an unlikely location -- orbiting a small red dwarf star.

Read More: Star Formation News and Star Formation Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to