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Astronomers get rare peek at early stage of star formation

Astronomers have obtained a first tantalizing look at a crucial early stage in star formation. The new observations promise to help scientists understand the early stages of a sequence of events through which a giant cloud of gas and dust collapses into dense cores that form new stars.

The scientists studied a giant cloud about 770 light-years from Earth in the constellation Perseus. They used the ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory and the NSF’s Green Bank Telescope (GBT) to make detailed observations of a clump, containing nearly 100 times the mass of the Sun, within that cloud.

Astronomers have found the first clear case of a clump of potentially star-forming gas that is on the verge of forming dense cores, and is unaffected by any nearby stars. Herschel revealed previously-unseen substructures within the clump that may be precursors to cores with the potential to form individual stars.

The astronomers used the GBT to study the motions and temperatures of molecules, primarily ammonia, within these substructures. These GBT observations indicated that one of the substructures is likely to be gravitationally bound and thus farther along the path to condensing into a core than the others.

This may be the first observation ever of a core precursor. The entire clump, the scientists say, could be expected to form about ten new stars. »