An astronomical saga of star births, pancakes, and Kylo Ren

[ This blog is dedicated to tracking my most recent publications. Subscribe to the feed to keep up with all the science stories I write! ]

And if I can be shameless: Forbes pays according to traffic, so the more of you who share and visit and read my stuff, the better they pay me. Ahem.

The Hidden Depths Of The Dark Cloud Hiding Newborn Stars

For Forbes:

The third dimension is one of the biggest obstacles in astronomy. We see the stars, but we don’t know how far away they are without some additional information, which requires scientific cleverness. And when the object we’re studying is a nebula — a cloud of gas or dust — we only see its profile, not its full three-dimensional shape. But a new paper shows that, in some cases, we might be able to deduce the full shape of a nebula by how it vibrates: a kind of magnetic nebulaquake.

Astrophysicists Aris Tritsis and Konstantinos Tassis compared a sophisticated computer simulation to observational data on an object called the “Musca molecular cloud”, also known as the “Dark Doodad”. (“Musca” is the name of the constellation where it’s found, which means “the fly”. It’s only visible in the Southern Hemisphere.) They found that even though the Doodad looks like a filament, it’s actually more like a pancake that we’re seeing edge-on. Beyond the curiosity aspect (who wouldn’t want to study the Dark Doodad?), this result is important for understanding how stars are born.

[Read the rest at Forbes…]


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?