DIAS team catches first direct glimpse of young stars being formed

26 Aug 2020

Artist’s impression of matter creating new-born stars. Image: Dr Marck Garlick

Researchers from DIAS in Ireland have proved existing star formation theories right, following first ever direct observation of the event.

An international team led by scientists from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) is reporting a major discovery that will help us better understand how stars come into existence. Writing in Nature, the team said it has directly observed how young stars are formed for the first time.

Using the high-precision Gravity ‘super-telescope’ at the European Southern Observatory – which effectively combines four of the world’s largest telescopes into one – the team saw how columns of matter rain on an infant star from its surrounding disc.

These protoplanetary discs are responsible for the formation not only of stars, but planetary systems like our own. According to Dr Rebeca García López of DIAS and University College Dublin who led the team, previous theories suggested new stars and planets were born from matter surrounding existing stars in a process called magnetospheric accretion.

Now, the DIAS-led team was able to confirm this was the case for the first time.

Important discovery

For the study, the researchers analysed the closest young star to Earth known as TW Hydra.

“We were able to see how matter from its surrounding disc is channelled onto the star, enabling it to gain weight,” García López said. “This makes us the first researchers to confirm the process by which new stars – and, ultimately, planets – are born.”

Commenting on the importance of this discovery, Prof Tom Ray of DIAS, co-author of the research, said: “These research findings are highly significant because they enable scientists to better understand how stars like our Sun form, and how the discs surrounding these stellar embryos give rise to planets like the Earth.”

A little closer to home, DIAS researchers are working with the NASA-ESA Solar Orbiter mission that recently took our closest ever photos of the sun.

Prof Peter Gallagher, head of astronomy and astrophysics at DIAS, was named as co-investigator along with other researchers looking at data from the Solar Telescope Imaging X-Rays instrument on board the spacecraft.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic