Star Birth Mystery Solved; New Research Reveals Why

First Posted: Jan 15, 2013 12:05 PM EST

For years, astronomers have wondered why a super-dense gas cloud near our Milky Way galaxy's core wasn't "birthing" more stars. Go.253+0.016, the name of the gas cloud, seemed to have all of the right qualifications; it's 30 light-years long and 25 times denser than the Orion Nebula, which births stars at a furious rate. Yet despite all of these benefits, the gas cloud remains unexpectedly barren.

The answer is surprisingly simple. Researchers found that the cloud is just swirling too quickly. In addition, it lacks the necessary pockets of denser material which help form stars when they collapse under their own gravity.

These new findings have made researchers realize that star formation is not as simple as once thought. Since the gas within Go.253+0.016 is zipping around 10 times faster than the gas in similar clouds, it doesn't have a chance to coalesce into stars. The result is that the cloud only churns out a few small stars.

The research, which was presented at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society, also showed that the cloud is full of silicon monoxide, a compound that suggests that Go.253+0.016 may actually consist of two colliding clouds rather than one single entity. In addition, it's unlikely that the cloud will be able to settle down long enough to churn out more stars. Due to its position near the center of the Milky Way galaxy, it's more likely that it will smash into other clouds or be ripped apart by the galaxy's central black hole.

The study has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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