Dark Cloud a Real Star Producer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., July 8 (UPI) — A mysterious cloud is forming stars at a furious rate inside one of the galaxy’s colossal nebula, Pennsylvania State University researchers said.

A wave of massive star formation appears ready to begin within the dark cloud, named M17 SWex, in the Milky Way, the University Park, Pa., institution said Wednesday in a release. The dark cloud is part of the larger nebula known as M17, a region of the galaxy with a bright, central star cluster.


“We believe we’ve managed to observe this dark cloud in a very early phase of star formation before its most massive stars have ignited,” said Penn State astronomer Matthew Povich, a post-doctoral fellow and the lead author of a study published recently in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The new research could shed light on the question of how and when massive stars form, he said.

Astronomers first discovered the dark cloud in the Sagittarius constellation more than 30 years ago but only recently spotted the star nursery using NASA’s powerful Spitzer Space Telescope, Penn State said. Spitzer’s infrared vision has shown that M17 SWex is among the Milky Way’s busiest star-making factories, with 488 newly forming stars.

Researchers estimate the actual number of stars forming to be more than 10,000 since fainter stars can’t be detected with current technology.

Povich said he hopes astronomers will use M17 SWex “as a new laboratory for studying the mystery of how massive star formation really happens. Most very young clouds being studied don’t have as much going on as this one does.”

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