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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify the sometimes-violent processes by which parts of a molecular cloud collapse to produce stars
  • Recognize some of the structures seen in images of molecular clouds like the one in Orion
  • Explain how the environment of a molecular cloud enables the formation of stars
  • Describe how advancing waves of star formation cause a molecular cloud to evolve

As we begin our exploration of how stars are formed, let’s review some basics about stars discussed in earlier chapters:

  • Stable (main-sequence) stars such as our Sun maintain equilibrium by producing energy through nuclear fusion in their cores. The ability to generate energy by fusion defines a star.
  • Each second in the Sun, approximately 600 million tons of hydrogen undergo fusion into helium, with about 4 million tons turning into energy in the process. This rate of hydrogen use means that eventually the Sun (and all other stars) will run out of central fuel.
  • Stars come with many different masses, ranging from 1/12 solar masses ( M Sun ) to roughly 100–200 M Sun . There are far more low-mass than high-mass stars.
  • The most massive main-sequence stars (spectral type O) are also the most luminous and have the highest surface temperature. The lowest-mass stars on the main sequence (spectral type M or L) are the least luminous and the coolest.
  • A galaxy of stars such as the Milky Way contains enormous amounts of gas and dust—enough to make billions of stars like the Sun.

If we want to find stars still in the process of formation, we must look in places that have plenty of the raw material from which stars are assembled. Since stars are made of gas, we focus our attention (and our telescopes) on the dense and cold clouds of gas and dust that dot the Milky Way (see [link] and [link] ).

Pillars of dust and dense globules in m16.

Two Images of the Eagle Nebula (M16). Figure a shows the central region of the nebula, with two huge columns gas and dust silhouetted against the bright nebulosity in the background. Figure b shows a close-up of one of the columns of gas and dust. Along the bright portion of the top edge of the column, thin wisps of gas are seen radiating off and away from the pillar. This structure is known as an evaporating gas globule.
(a) This Hubble Space Telescope image of the central regions of M16 (also known as the Eagle Nebula ) shows huge columns of cool gas, (including molecular hydrogen, H2) and dust. These columns are of higher density than the surrounding regions and have resisted evaporation by the ultraviolet radiation from a cluster of hot stars just beyond the upper-right corner of this image. The tallest pillar is about 1 light-year long, and the M16 region is about 7000 light-years away from us. (b) This close-up view of one of the pillars shows some very dense globules, many of which harbor embryonic stars. Astronomers coined the term evaporating gas globules (EGGs) for these structures, in part so that they could say we found EGGs inside the Eagle Nebula. It is possible that because these EGGs are exposed to the relentless action of the radiation from nearby hot stars, some may not yet have collected enough material to form a star. (credit a : modification of work by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); credit b: modification of work by NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University))

Molecular clouds: stellar nurseries

As we saw in Between the Stars: Gas and Dust in Space , the most massive reservoirs of interstellar matter—and some of the most massive objects in the Milky Way Galaxy—are the giant molecular clouds    . These clouds have cold interiors with characteristic temperatures of only 10–20 K; most of their gas atoms are bound into molecules. These clouds turn out to be the birthplaces of most stars in our Galaxy.

Questions & Answers

What kind of weather does Venus experience?
Michael Reply
why are the hyperlinks not working?
Gregory Reply
If the atmosphere blocks the view of Venus' surface, what am I seeing that looks like craters?
Michael Reply
If the surface of Venus is shrouded by white clouds, making it impossible to see the surface, what looks like craters when view the planet?
Michael Reply
I don't Know! perhaps the mountains?
my question is if the surface of Venus is shining y not our earth
when we look at venus we can't see any crater like things... check it once again
and venus shines because of the clouds that are made up sulpher dioxide and sulphuric acid droplets. and the clouds are so dense. the case of earth is different
also because of Venus's 70% albedo phenamenon
and plus it reflects 70 percent of its light back into space earth don't shine because it's not a cloudy planet and its farther than the sun
can I become an astronaut without taking mathematics as a subject in 11th class
If the surface of Venus is shrouded by white clouds, making it impossible to see the surface, what looks like craters? Are these atmospheric storms?
can a death of a massive star be the new big bang
Neeta Reply
No it might be a supernova. The big bang was much more massive.
It created the universe as we know it
the big bang is just a new beginning
the death of a gigantic star makes it possible for a new begging
Only in the local area of space
so many smaller universes are created and destroyed
i think it created a supernova!
you still think? I am sure I created one supernova of my own
I'm sure you did
neeta the death of a massive star could lead to an explosion that leads to a super nova and when the supernova explodes it becomes a nebula like messier 1
a supernova remnant
what is means by earthbound
Satyam Reply
you are earthbound, arnt we all earthbound? except the ISS etc.
I don't agree we may be earthbound because of our gross body/physical body...but there is also a subtle body which does not limit us to earthly existence
good questions, as humans our habitat is earth, we are bound to this and have to alter ourselves to stay alive off land and outside the atmosphere, do you not agree? I'd guess you could also say the moon is earthbound. anything earthbound is restricted to earth. hope this helps, love your question
how do you describe astral projection
Astral projection is spiritual. I'm assuming Satyam was talking about the physical world.
ah yes spiritually we are bound only to what we chose, like nothing, I like to think that way
anyone here also participating in seti@home?
what is seti?
what has extraterrestrial entity got to do with this why @seti project..we are discussing human existence on earth and beyond earth
please join me at the cosmic Diner where all your intergalactic dreams come true.
I was just thinking what if somebody ignorantly mistaken a cosmic microwave Background with a conventional microwave we be in a lot of trouble.
don't kno
You mean the Restaurant at the end of the Universe...right we can come back and visit again but not sure of the mode of payment
yeah I'm already heading there
how to read stars
Amresh Reply
you don't
astrology i guess
astrologer is the study of star systems and constellations...but astronomy is the study of formation of universes multiverses birth and evolu of stars
what is astronomy
babul Reply
study of formation evolution and the death of star star systems and galaxies
astronomy is the study of universe
astronomy and physics are basically the same except physics is the study of the motion and behavior of the universe
What is 12 constellation of zodiac and why it is important to study astrology
And also what is main purpose of these 12 constellation of zodiac in astronomy
astronomy and astrology with two different things
it Is the study of universe and of life speaking generally! i think!
universe is born 13,7 miliardi of years with big Bang if i remember well! but there are also other theories for the universe, speaking generally! i remember so!
universe is actually about 13.7 billion years old
is astrology like astronomy
debjani Reply
Astrology is a lower dimension.. astronomy is much more vast and multidimensional
yes.. astrology is about constellations only, and astronomy is about all stars, galaxies, gravity, dark matter, dark energy.. etc everything including astrology
can you become an astronaut without taking mathematics as a subject in 11th class
I was reading the chapter on Cosmic Microwave Background. And, I can not seem to find it now. If anyone could help me find that portion of the Astronomy Textbook I would really appreciate it. AZ
Alba Reply
Where or which chapter discusses Cosmic Microwave Background?
29 the big bang ch 29.4
what's cold dark matter?
pratham Reply
Dark matter even the science community is not sure what it is...!!! That's why they have some of the smartest math wizards around to try to figure out that puzzle!
How are Roche Worlds formed?
AlteredEdge Reply
In need to read some books about Astronomy so how can in get it actually leg live in Ethiopia can uh help me with that?
Mom Reply
I am sri Sharan .m .what is my best favourable numbers
Madhesh Reply
how can we know it
bahut hard
Practice Key Terms 4

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