Protostars are, as the name suggests, what we have before a star forms. Clouds of gas and dust collapse under gravitation, heat up, and (at least in some cases) begin fusing hydrogen into helium in their cores. A new observation of a protostar catches it very early in its formation, while it was still accreting mass. The researchers estimated it might have been 300,000 years old or even less, which may sound like a lot, but is a blink of an eye in cosmic terms.

The researchers measured dust in the region surrounding L1527 using the Submillimeter Array (SMA) in Hawaii and the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA) in California. Previous observations, using one of the Gemini telescopes in Chile, determined the protostar had a disk, which appears edge-on from our perspective on Earth.

The newer results determined both the thermal emission—the broad spectrum of light directly emitted from the warm gas and dust—and absorption by carbon monoxide molecules in the disk. (Specifically, they measured 13CO, the version of carbon monoxide involving the isotope carbon-13.) The excellent resolution of the telescopes enabled the astronomers to measure the total size and mass of each component of the system. [Read more…]

Oo’s a widdle bitty baby protostar?