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Astronomers Baffled By Odd Behavior Of Age-Defying Star

First Posted: Aug 31, 2016 06:10 AM EDT
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Astronomers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are baffled by a start they have been observing for many years. The huge star embedded deep in the Milky Way galaxy has been showing confusing characteristics of both very old and very young star.

According to NASA reports, researchers initially identified the star as an elderly, a red supergiant even. However, a new study by a NASA-led team of researchers claims that the object, dubbed IRAS 19312+1950, may actually be something else, a protostar, a star that is still in the making.

"Astronomers recognized this object as noteworthy around the year 2000 and have been trying ever since to decide how far along its development is," said Martin Cordiner, an astrochemist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He is the lead author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal that describes the team's findings, from observations made using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and ESA's Herschel Space Observatory.

The object, located over 12,000 light-years from Earth, first caught astronomers' attention with its odd characteristics when it was observed at specific radio frequencies. Jpl.nasa.gov reported that there have already studied it using ground-based telescopes and said that it's an oxygen-rich star which is about 10 times as big as the sun. However, the question they still can't answer is: What kind of star?

Some researchers have come up with an idea that the star is evolved, meaning it has already past the height of its life cycle and is on the decline. Phys.org reported that for most of stars' lives, it gets its energy by merging hydrogen into their cores, just what the sun is doing now. however, older stars have used up most of their hydrogen and can only rely on heavier fuels that don't last as long which can lead them to deteriorate faster.

Scientists thought that the object was an old star at first that is surrounded by a cloud of typically found accompanying young stars. Another idea that they were trying to consider is that the observations may be capturing two objects: a very old star and an embryonic cloud of star-making material in the same field.

The team of researchers began to doubt the object and conducted additional observations using ESA's Herschel Space Observatory and analyzing data gathered earlier with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Both gave the team new insight into the gases, dust and ices in the cloud surrounding the star. The information led the research team to think that the star is actually in a very early stage of formation. When they looked at the object again, it appeared much brighter than the first observation. They said that it looked like it was emitting about 20,000 times the energy of our sun.

The team also found numerous amounts of ices made from water and carbon dioxide in the cloud around the object. These are located on dust grains not too far from the star, and all this dust and ice blocks out starlight making the star seem dimmer than it really is.

The dense cloud around the object also appears to be collapsing. This usually happens when a growing star pulls in material. The entire envelope of material was found to have at least 500 to 700 suns, which is much more than could have been produced by an elderly or dying star. "We think the star is probably in an embryonic stage, getting near the end of its accretion stage, the period when it pulls in new material to fuel its growth," said Cordiner.

Tune in to Science World Report for more news and updates on this age-defying star.

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