Hubble finds spiralling stars, may provide insights into formation of Universe

Updated on Sep 10, 2022 01:15 PM IST

Nasa says that by learning the star formation in this cloud can give insight into the occurrence of a firestorm of star birth early in the universe’s history, when the universe was still in the baby boom stage just after 2 to 3 billion years of the big bang.

The precise observations became possible only because of Hubble’s superb resolution and high sensitivity. illustration(illustration/screengrab _Nasa video)
The precise observations became possible only because of Hubble’s superb resolution and high sensitivity. illustration(illustration/screengrab _Nasa video)

The Hubble telescope managed by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has captured an image of young stars spiralling inwards into the centre of massive cluster of stars located in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a finding that could prove to be an epochal step towards unravelling the mystery behind stars formation.

Why is this finding important ?

The finding published in The Astrophysical Journal on September 8 reveals that the process of star formation captured here can be compared to that in our own Milky Way.

The Small Magellanic Cloud, that is 200,000 light-years away, is a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. It has a composition similar to the galaxies found in the younger universe. In this, there are less heavy elements, so the stars burn hotter and exhaust their fuel faster than those stars in our Milky Way.

Nasa says learning the star formation in this cloud can give insight into the occurrence of a firestorm of star birth early in the universe’s history, when the universe was still in the baby boom stage just after 2 to 3 billion years of the big bang. The universe is currently estimated to be 13.8 billion years old.

“Stars are the machines that sculpt the universe. We would not have life without stars, and yet we don’t fully understand how they form,” study leader Elena Sabbi said in a statement to Nasa.

Why is spiral shape formation significant?

Spiral shape is abundantly found in natural creations. It seems to be the creator’s favourite shape of formation, from the DNA double helix to the vast realms of spiral galaxies in our universe.

Researchers say that the outer arm of the spiral in the stellar nursery called NGC 346 may be nourishing star formation in a river-like motion of gas and stars. They believe that this is the most efficient way to fuel star birth. “A spiral is really the good, natural way to feed star formation from the outside toward the centre of the cluster,” explained Peter Zeidler, a researcher associated with the project.

The massive star cluster NGC 346, located in the Small Magellanic Cloud. (Credits: Illustration: NASA, ESA, Andi James (STScI))
The massive star cluster NGC 346, located in the Small Magellanic Cloud. (Credits: Illustration: NASA, ESA, Andi James (STScI))

The combined effort of two space agencies.

The amount of observed motion, being very small, is difficult to measure at such an enormous distance. These precise observations became possible only because of Hubble’s superb resolution and high sensitivity.

Apart from this, the archival data of the venerable telescope provided a baseline for astronomers to follow minute celestial motions.

While the Hubble telescope was used to track the motion of the stars, another team from the European Space Agency (ESA) used the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument to visualise the gas motion in the third dimension to confirm that everything is spiralling inwards.

The Hubble Space Telescope is managed by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and is a joint project of the US space agency and ESA.

Assignment for James Webb Telescope

Researchers expect that the observations with James Webb Space Telescope would give a more holistic view, as it should be able to resolve lower-mass stars in the cluster.

With repeated experiments over the operational lifespan of Webb Telescope, the motion of the low-mass stars can be measured and compared with high-mass stars to comprehensively understand the phenomenon.

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