There’s still much we don’t know about the birth of massive stars — stars with more than 8 times the mass of the Sun. A recent study reveals details of a thousand-year-old explosion that might provide clues about the formation of these giants.
An Unexpected Explosion
The clouds of molecular gas in regions like the Orion nebula provide nurseries in which massive stars form and evolve. [ESO/G. Beccari]Several decades ago, astronomers discovered something odd. In a region inside the Orion nebula where massive star formation is underway, scientists detected signs of an explosive outflow: dense molecular gas streaming outward from a central point at rapid speeds. Surprisingly, there was nothing at the center of this explosion.
This one-off discovery was intriguing. One could imagine a number of sudden, energy-liberating events that could occur in a massive star-forming environment — like the formation of a close massive stellar binary, or the merger of two young, massive protostars. And the discovery of several candidate runaway stars at the fringes of the explosion provided another hint to a dynamical origin.
Could this explosion help us understand the process of how massive stars form in their birth environments? Or was it just a fluke ...