A cosmic light show sparked by the formation of massive stars in the stellar nursery, called W51, glows over on a star field image (white) from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Image credit: NASA/SOFIA/Lim and De Buizer et al./Sloan Digital Sky Survey
When massive stars – many times larger than our Sun – are born, they shine hot and bright before eventually exploding as supernovae. They release so much energy that they can affect the evolution of galaxies. But, unlike stars like our Sun, astronomers know much less about how these enormous stars form.
“Massive stars like this represent less than one percent of all stars, but they can affect the formation of their stellar siblings,” says Jim De Buizer, Universities Space Research Association senior scientist at the SOFIA Science Center. “Stars like our Sun have much quieter and humbler origins, and because there are so many of them, we understand their birth properties more thoroughly.”
To learn more, researchers used the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, to study a giant celestial cloud, called W51. Located almost 17,000 light years away and made mostly of hydrogen, it’s a place where rare, gigantic stars are forming. But they are ...