Stars could be forming much faster than we thought

Stars could be forming much faster than we thought

Chinese astronomers used the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), the largest radio telescope in the world, to probe the magnetic field inside a molecular cloud called Lynds 1544. Located in the constellation Taurus, at about 450 light years from Earth, Lynds 1544 is a fascinating region in that it appears right on the verge of producing a star.

Astronomers had previously measured the magnetic field within the densest part of the cloud, where the nascent proto-star, using the Arecibo Observatory, a huge radio telescope in Puerto Rico, before it collapsed in 2020. They also probed the thinnest regions at the edges of the cloud. Now, the FAST measurements have focused on the intermediate region; previously missing information.

Measurements revealed that the magnetic field in those areas was 13 times weaker than predicted by theoretical models, the researchers explained in a statement. This means that the magnetic field is not strong enough to hold the collapsing matter and that nuclear fusion would ignite inside the sphere of increasingly dense material much faster than previously predicted. Nuclear fusion is what powers living stars, including our sun.

“If the standard theory worked, the magnetic field must be much stronger to withstand an increase in 100 times the density of clouds. This did not happen, ”explained the FAST chief scientist who led the study. The discovery could revolutionize star formation theory, but scientists warn that such discovery should be supported by measurements of other star-forming clouds that are expected to yield similar results.

"If this phenomenon occurs in other gas clouds, it will be a revolutionary discovery for the star formation community," Paola Caselli of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, who was not involved in the Research. "The paper basically says that gravity wins in the cloud: that's where stars start forming, not in the dense core."

The FAST telescope, with a parabola 500 meters in diameter, is considerably larger of the 305 m of Arecibo, which held the record for the largest radio telescope in the world. The international radio astronomy community deeply felt the loss of Arecibo. But in December 2020, China announced it will open FAST to international scientists. The FAST telescope is located inside a natural crater in the province of Guizhou, in southwest China. Its giant dish is made up of thousands of triangular panels, each of which can be guided to allow the telescope to focus on different targets, the BBC reported in 2016.

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