Source: ESA Science and Technology
RCW 120 as seen by Herschel.
Credit: ESA, PACS & SPIRE Consortia, A. Zavagno
Massive stars are the rare birds of astrophysics. With a mass over eight times that of the Sun, these stars are much less common than their lower-mass counterparts. In addition, they are short-lived, consuming their nuclear fuel at a rapid rate before ending their life in spectacular manner as a supernova. Their scarcity means that observations of these rare giants can prove difficult to obtain, but characterising these elusive objects is essential for understanding the chemical and dynamical evolution of galaxies.
The mechanism leading to the formation of massive stars is still largely debated. Detecting these objects in their earliest phases is a highly challenging task, since they are embedded in dusty cocoons that hide them from view. However, the dust that absorbs their light re-emits it at infrared wavelengths, making an infrared observatory such as Herschel a unique tool for locating newborn massive stars in their natal nests.
New images from ESA's Herschel space observatory reveal high-mass protostars around two ionised regions in our Galaxy. The detection of these rare stars in an early phase of evolution is key to understanding the mysterious formation of massive stars.(read more)