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Astronomers discover stars are forming much faster than previously thought

Scientists peered into a molecular cloud to make the surprising discovery using the largest radio telescope in the world

Adam Smith
Tuesday 11 January 2022 11:07
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Scientists believe that stars are forming much faster than previously expected, according to a new study using the largest radio-telescope in the world.

Chinese astronomers used the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) to look inside a molecular cloud 450 light-years away from Earth called Lynds 1544 – a part of the universe right on the brink of birthing a new star.

The astronomers discovered that the magnetic field between the densest part of the cloud – where the new star will originate from – and the thinnest regions of the cloud’s edges was 13 times weaker than their models predicted.

This means it would not be strong enough to hold back the enormous nuclear fusion that would eventually ignite inside the cloud.

“The detection of a reduced magnetic field in the prestellar core L1544 … may change our understanding of star formation. The observation suggests that changes in magnetic fields, which have an important role in the evolution of interstellar medium and star formation, happen sooner than previously thought”, the astronomers wrote in a statement.

Should other gas clouds exhibit the same behaviour, it would revolutionise the theory of star formation – putting a much greater onus on the effects of gravity rather than the cloud’s dense core.

The new study was published in the journal Nature on 5 January.

The construction of China’s enormous telescope needed to rehome over 9,000 people as part of the hunt for extraterrestrial life.

In the three years since its construction in 2016, scientists have picked up over 100 signals coming from deep space. These signals are fast radio bursts, coming to Earth in the form of extreme radio signals, but are yet to be properly explained.

Possible explanations have ranged from a star falling into a black hole to communications from a distant alien race.

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