Birthplace of giant stars discovered

Dec. 29, 2010 at 8:31 PM
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SYDNEY, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- An Australian astronomer says a cosmic string of cold gas and dust 260 light years across the Milky Way has been identified as the birthplace of very big stars.

Jill Rathborne, of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, says before the discovery of the dark celestial necklace, little was known about how massive stars, more than eight times the size of our sun, are formed, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Wednesday.

"There are not very many of them and they don't live very long, so they are very hard to study," she says.

These giants have an important effect on galaxies, she says, emitting large amounts of radiation and stellar winds and forging heavy elements before exploding as massive supernovae.

Rathborne is a member of a team that spotted the long, dark structure in the Milky Way using the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope.

They dubbed it the "Nessie nebula."

"It looks a bit like the Loch Ness monster," Rathborne says.

"We found the concentration of gas and dust along Nessie is periodically spaced, like beads on a string," she says, adding that observations of the beads revealed stars in the very early stages of life.

"We think it is where the next generation of massive stars will form," she said.

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