Forming Massive Stars – Beyond the Printed Page

The cover story of the October 2015 issue features the conundrum of massive star formation: how do these stars can form at all in the hostile environment they themselves create? Here, you'll find accompanying videos.

The nearest massive star formation region is Orion, about 1,300 light-years away. This WorldWide Telescope tour guides you through the star-forming regions in this constellation, showing protostars still enshrouded in heavy mantles of gas and dust, proplyds (protostars surrounded by protoplanetary disks), and massive just-born stars that wreak havoc on their surroundings. Watch it here, or go to WorldWide Telescope to watch an interactive version.

About five times further away, the Carina Nebula shows additional evidence for the beautiful destruction of massive stars. This movie is also available as a WorldWide Telescope interactive tour.

Despite the destruction their own intense radiation and powerful winds can cause, massive stars still appear to form much as low-mass stars do. A growing pile of evidence shows that massive stars, like their low-mass brethren, form out of the monolithic collapse of clumps of gas. Among this pile is a two-year compilation of observations of a future B-type star known as Orion Source I (see video below). The video shows a gas clumps running away from the protostar, a clear signature of an accretion disk feeding the protostar and the wind that flows off of it.

OrionSource1

Orion Source I, a future B-type star that draws in gas from an accretion disk (not seen) and blows a wind that appears as a an X of colored dots.
Lynn Matthews & others

The protostar is unseen, but marked by a red circle. The accretion disk is also too opaque to show up in this movie, but it can be seen by its absence, a black diagonal bar at the image center.

Each dot in the "X" of colored lights is a clump of silicon monoxide gas speeding away from the disk and the central protostar. The clumps are color-coded for direction — red-colored spots move away from us, while blue-colored spots move toward us. (Some of the gas, colored green and yellow, rotates in a bridge connecting the two bottom arms of the X — a hint of the disk's rotation.)

These movies tell only part of the complex story of massive star formation. For more, check out our October 2015 issue.