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Astronomers discover 'stellar cradle'

Astronomers at the University of Illinois in the US have discovered the cradle, which consists of a flattened envelope of gas and dust surrounding a young protostar.

tech reviews Updated: Nov 30, 2007 15:34 IST

Finally, a stellar cradle from where several planets and moons have formed has been found in the space.

Astronomers at the University of Illinois in the US have discovered the cradle, which consists of a flattened envelope of gas and dust surrounding a young protostar, using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the Science Daily reported.

"We are seeing this object in the early stages of stellar birth. Eventually, the protostar will form into a star much like our sun, and the disk will form into planets and moons," according to lead researcher Prof Leslie Looney.

Located 800 light-years away in the constellation Cepheus, the object is obscured by dust and invisible to the eye. But, the Spitzer Space Telescope's sensitive infrared camera has penetrated the dust, revealing the structures.

The brightest structure consists of an enormous, almost linear flow of shocked molecular hydrogen gas erupting from the protostar's two magnetic poles. These bipolar jets are so long that light would take about one-and-a-half years to travel from one end to the other.
The images reveal that the planet-forming region is perpendicular to, and roughly centred on the polar jets. And, a bright background of galactic infrared emission is the flattened disk of a circumstellar envelope.

Theorised, but never before seen, the flattened disk is an expected outcome for cloud-collapse theories, including magnetic fields or rotation.

"If material was not shed in this fashion, the protostar's spin would speed up so fast it would break apart.

"Some theories had predicted that envelopes flatten as they collapse onto their stars and surrounding planet-forming disks. But we hadn't seen any strong evidence of this until now," Looney was quoted as saying.