Astronomers Map More Than 100,000 ‘Star Nurseries’ To Show Where Stars Are Born


Jun 14, 2021


Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/PHANGS, S. Dagnello (NRAO)

In the first-ever survey of its kind, an international team comprising more than 50 astronomers has identified more than 100,000 locations of where stars originated across 90 galaxies in the universe.

Called stellar nurseries — or “star nurseries” — these are regions of space where the stars are born. Experts note that each nursery can spawn thousands of new stars during its lifetime — and now, researchers have an atlas with maps for more than 100,000 of them. “These nurseries are responsible for building galaxies and making planets, and they’re just an essential part in the story of how we got here,” Adam Leroy, associate professor of astronomy at the Ohio State University in the U.S., who led the study, said in a statement.

Through the maps, researchers are looking forward to tracing stars back to the stellar nurseries where they formed, to understand the process of their formation in greater detail — besides understanding each existing star better.

Think of stellar nurseries as gas-dense regions of space that have the perfect conditions for stars to form. Essentially, they are extremely cold and dense clouds of gas and dust that are compressed by forces of gravity in space — until the process of nuclear fusion that sustains a star begins. The process, however, can take millions of years.

Until now, scientists believed all stellar nurseries looked the same — a belief that appears to be busted by the new survey. “We used to think that all stellar nurseries across every galaxy must look more or less the same, but this survey has revealed that this is not the case, and stellar nurseries change from place to place,” Leroy noted.

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The research also led the scientists to understand that a nursery’s location — or “neighborhood” — plays an important role in the birth of stars. “These observations have taught us that the ‘neighborhood’ has small but pronounced effects on where and how many stars are born,” Eva Schinnerer, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, who co-authored the study, told the press.

The astronomers presented their research at the summer meeting of the American Astronomical Society last week. Available at arXiv, this collaborative research by scientists from across the globe that led to the creation of the atlas, is presently awaiting peer review.

The researchers hope that figuring out the origin of stars will help them understand the stars and galaxies better, too. “To understand how stars form, we need to link the birth of a single star back to its place in the universe. It’s like linking a person to their home, neighborhood, city, and region. If a galaxy represents a city, then the neighborhood is the spiral arm, the house the star-forming unit, and nearby galaxies are neighboring cities in the region,” Schinnerer added.

Researchers believe that the atlas will also guide them to gauge the complexities of the universe better — and provide greater insights into how stellar nurseries as formative spaces create stars.

“[I]t’s a big step towards understanding where we come from. While we now know that stellar nurseries vary from place to place, we still do not know why or how these variations affect the stars and planets formed,” Adam Leroy noted, adding these are “questions that we hope to answer in the near future.”


Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.


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