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Making Stars

March 14, 2016

Most of the stars in the galaxy are born with companions — other stars that are gravitationally bound to them. And according to a recent study, there’s more than one way to make systems of two or more stars.

The study used an array of radio telescopes in New Mexico to examine a stellar nursery in the constellation Perseus, which is half-way up the northwestern sky at nightfall.

The nursery is one of the largest in the galaxy. It’s given birth to many new stars, and many more are being born even now. And the study found that most of these newborn or newly forming stars come in groups of two, three, or even more.

The groupings fall into a couple of different categories: stars that are quite close to each other, and stars that are much farther apart. And there seems to be different ways to make the two groups.

All the stars form when giant clouds of gas and dust collapse. In the case of the widely separated companions, the cloud just breaks apart into two or more clumps, and each clump continues its collapse independent of the others.

The closer companions, though, seem to follow a different path. A single star begins to form, surrounded by a disk of gas and dust. Disturbances in the disk cause large amounts of this material to stick together. If enough of it sticks together, it forms another star. In that case, the stellar siblings are so close that they’re likely to remain together — gliding through the galaxy as a tight-knit family.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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