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Telescope captures birth of Milky Way's most massive star yet seen

July 10, 2013 at 6:16 PM   |   Comments

CARDIFF, Wales, July 10 (UPI) -- Astronomers using a telescope in Chile say they are witnessing the birth of the Milky Way's most massive star observed so far.

The new ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) telescope is providing unprecedented detail about the birth of a giant star within a dark cloud core about 10,000 light years from Earth, they said.

Matter is being dragged into the center of the huge gaseous cloud by the gravitational pull of the forming star -- or stars -- along a number of dense threads or filaments, they've reported in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

"The remarkable observations from ALMA allowed us to get the first really in-depth look at what was going on within this cloud," lead author Nicolas Peretto of the Cardiff University in Wales said.

"We wanted to see how monster stars form and grow, and we certainly achieved our aim. One of the sources we have found is an absolute giant -- the largest protostellar core ever spotted in the Milky Way!"

While there are differing theories on how these massive stars form, the astronomers say their findings lend weight to the idea the entire cloud core begins to collapse inwards, with material raining in towards the center to form one or more massive stars.

"Even though we already believed that the region was a good candidate for being a massive star-forming cloud, we were not expecting to find such a massive embryonic star at its center," Peretto said. "This cloud is expected to form at least one star 100 times more massive than the sun and up to a million times brighter. Only about one in 10,000 of all the stars in the Milky Way reach that kind of mass."

Such stars are rare with an extremely rapid birth and short childhood, study co-author Gary Fuller from the University of Manchester said, "so finding such a massive object so early in its evolution in our galaxy is a spectacular result."

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