Adler Astronomer Discovers Previously Invisible Star Formations


Grace Wolf-Chase has found a way to see the invisible.

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The Adler Planetarium astronomer recently discovered new evidence of stars forming in the Milky Way galaxy, of which Earth is a member. By using a telescope equipped to detect infrared light invisible to the human eye, Wolf-Chase and a team of researchers were able to reveal how stars – including our own sun – grow up within clusters and groups.

Grace Wolf-Chase (Adler Planetarium)Grace Wolf-Chase (Adler Planetarium) The team, which was led by Wolf-Chase, found huge gas clouds moving outward from areas where “baby” stars are forming. Known as stellar nurseries, these areas can produce dozens or even hundreds of stars with different sizes and masses.

“The sun, though isolated from other stars today, is thought to have formed in a cluster with many other stars, so the environments we’re studying can tell us a lot about the origin of our own solar system,” Wolf-Chase said in a press release.

Researchers employed an instrument called a near-infrared camera and fabry-perot spectrometer (NICFPS) on a 3.5-meter telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico. There, they used the NICFPS to peer into 26 dusty clouds thought to be forming clusters containing massive stars. In total, the team identified 36 jets across 22 stellar nursery regions.

According to Adler, the results provide compelling evidence that, like their lower-mass siblings, massive stars also launch powerful jets, which are tight streams of gas that can span trillions of miles and serve as an indicator of budding planetary systems.

The team’s findings were published last week in The Astrophysical Journal.

Among the study's co-authors were two former Adler staff, including Michael Smutko, a professor in Northwestern University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Follow Alex Ruppenthal on Twitter: @arupp

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