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Massive stellar womb caught birthing monstrous star in Milky Way

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Probing a distant cloud 11,000 light-years away, astronomers have discovered what may be the largest stellar womb yet found in our galaxy. With a mass of 500 suns, this massive body is feeding an embryonic star that may become a rare behemoth in the Milky Way.

This star birth, to be described in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, sheds light on how such giants are formed. Such massive stars are extremely rare; roughly one in 10,000 stars in the Milky Way gathers this much bulk. (A star is considered massive if it’s at least about 10 times the mass of the sun.)

Astronomers aren’t sure how massive stars form. One idea suggests that many small star cores coalesce out of a dark gas cloud; another theory argues that the entire cloud core begins to collapse inward to form one or two really big star cores.

To try and answer this question, a team of European scientists decided to look at the Spitzer Dark Cloud, a mysterious body filled with dense filaments of gas and dust that was discovered using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory.

The scientists used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile, a radio telescope that can pick up long wavelengths of light that can punch through the dark cloud. They discovered just two embryonic stellar cores – one of them so big that they predict it will form at least one star that’s 100 solar masses when it fully develops.

The observation supports theory No. 2 – that such massive stars are formed by a dramatic collapse of a cloud core. It’s a fast process as the material races inward – so the scientists were lucky to catch this process in the act, they said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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