Massive star formation occurs in the yellow regions of the image, and after formation cavities are cleared in the surrounding gas, shown in green. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
For three years, Jenny Calahan led fellow undergraduate students at the University of Arizona (UA) in research to help unravel the mystery of how the galaxy’s most massive stars are born. On 23 July 2018, just two months after Calahan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy, the resulting research paper, “Searching for Inflow Towards Massive Starless Clump Candidates Identified in the Bolocam Galactic Plane Survey,” was published in the Astrophysical Journal. Her co-authors include students who assisted with the survey and research.
“There’s still a pretty open question in astronomy when it comes to massive star formation,” says Calahan. “How do stars weighing more than eight solar masses form from clouds of dust and gas?”
Astronomers understand this process for stars the size of our sun. Particles in clouds are attracted to each other and begin to clump together. Gravity takes hold and the gases flow to the centre of the cloud as it collapses. Over millions of years, the gas is put under so much pressure that it begins ...