Stars are easily observable in the night sky, either by the naked eye or with the aid of a powerful telescope, but while we know they exist and we understand their significance to any stellar system they reside in, we still seem to know very little about their formation. For this reason, astronomers are particularly excited about witnessing some of the most vital moments during the birth of two stars in a stunning binary star system.
Modern knowledge suggests that stars come to existence after enough hot gas and matter coalesces and combines under the forces of gravity, a process that takes many, many years, typically much longer than a human lifetime. After the star becomes hot enough, it generates its own internal pressures that fight back against its own gravity, resulting in a stable star much like the Sun that powers our very own solar system.
The most recent observation made with ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) is occurring in a system almost 700 light-years away from Earth and involves the binary [BHB2007] 11. Given just how long these star-forming events take, observing astronomers today won’t live long enough to witness the result, but we can still study what’s happening here and now to reinforce existing star formation theories.
The latest image illustrates two swirling circumstellar discs of gas and dust residing in the newly forming binary system. Around those is one larger disc with the equivalent of 80 Jupiter masses. Computer models depict an interesting exchange of matter between the discs as they swirl around during the star formation, and as you might come to expect, these details are conceiving tons of new questions about stellar formation.
Assuming astronomers can pick and prod this system of information and amass useful information from other star-forming systems, scientists just might be able to perfect their star formation model and help humankind better understand the universe around us. The future certainly looks bright for astronomy!