Herschel Sees a Big Baby

A growing infant star (bright knot), already 8-10 times the mass of our Sun

This is the recent image taken from ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory of a baby giant that is still growing. Herschel’s special talent is to peer into space with it’s sensitive detectors tuned to the far infrared part of the spectrum, and see the coldest stuff floating around in space that goes into making new suns. The Herschel Telescope can reach the parts other telescopes cannot.

This image shows a giant bubble of gas (visible in blue) 4,300 light years away, called RCW 120. But look to the

lower left of this bubble and notice the bright blob. This blob is a star still in the process of formation at already 8 to 10 times the mass of our Sun. Which means that this big baby is already tipping the scales as a real heavyweight. But amazingly it could get even more massive as there is enough material in the surrounding cloud to make an extra 2,000 stars with the mass of our Sun. If this giant is at 10 times solar mass at present then this star could eventually turn into a black hole at the end of it’s life. But it’s still growing and attracting gas and dust towards itself, which means this could potentially end up as one of our Galaxy’s truly enormous stars.

The biggest stars known are around 150 times the mass of our Sun, but scientists are not sure exactly how they form. This is because the growing star’s powerful stellar winds and ultraviolet light should blow away surrounding gas and dust, preventing such mammoth suns from getting so big…but yet they exist. Present theories suggest that stars should not form more than about 8 times the mass of our Sun.

Even with all our telescopes, data, and imaging there is still so much about the universe that remains elusive. But the Herschel Space Observatory is only just coming up to it’s first year on the 14th of May, and so looks set to present even more amazing facts and images about the cosmos in it’s time to come.

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