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Stellar Winds Could Explain Deceptively "Cool" Star Nursery

Jul 03, 2014 04:25 PM EDT
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Researchers have recently identified a portion of a prolific stellar nursery which has chemical signatures that would indicate a cold environment utterly impossible for its location. These signatures they say, could be explained by an unusual burst of stellar winds.

The research team in question had been using the European Space Agency's (ESA) Herschel telescope to survey the chemical compositions of regions where stars are likely being born today.

That is when they stumbled upon some very unusual chemical signatures in protostar OMC2 FIR4 that are utterly uncharacteristic of the conditions of a dusty "star nursery".

"To our great surprise, we found that the proportion of two chemical species, one based on carbon and oxygen and the other on nitrogen, is much smaller in this object than in any other protostar we know," said Dr Cecilia Ceccarelli, of the Institute de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble, France, in a recent statement.

The low levels they were reading where more characteristic of an extremely cold environment, where freezing dust grains could hide higher compound levels from detection.

"However, at the relatively 'high' temperature of about -200°C (-328°F) found in star-forming regions like OMC2 FIR4, this should not occur," according to the ESA.

According to the researchers, the only plausible explanation for this strange phenomenon is that the carbon and oxygen, or nitrogen formed in this star nursery were subsequently quipped out by additional winds of energetic particles - culling levels to unusually low and even amounts.

The astronomers add that similar winds - difficult to detect with current technologies - likely swept through the early Universe, also explaining for some mysterious elemental signatures seen in ancient meteorites.

According to the researcher's study, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, meteorites found on Earth contain the isotope beryllium-10 - an isotope that is not produced in stars or in supernovas, but is instead formed in collisions with high energies (as seen in solar winds).

Interestingly, this isotope tends to decay very quickly, becoming other elements, so the fact it can still be found in great abundance on Earth landed meteorites means that our own Sun must have blasted them with huge solar winds of its own in it youth.

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