Thursday, May 17, 2001

might signal shift
in thought on stars

The discovery might cause
scientists to rethink star formation

By Alex Dominguez
Associated Press

Young stars, like babies, have voracious appetites, sucking up dust and gas to fuel their growth. And now, it appears, they even burp.

Using 10 radio-telescope antennas spread across the United States from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands, an international group of researchers has detected a perfectly round bubble of material being ejected from a young star more than 2,000 light-years away from Earth.

"It is surprising that nature can maintain such perfect symmetry," said Guillem Anglada of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Granada, Spain. "This appears to be a triumph of order over chaos."

After several months of observations, the bubble, formed by water molecules, had grown in diameter to 5.8 billion miles, the researchers report in today's issue of the journal Nature.

The discovery means scientists might have to rethink their theories of star formation, said Harvard astronomer Paul Ho, another member of the team.

Astronomers believe a star forms from a rotating cloud of dust and gas.

The classical theory is that this spinning disc feeds the young star while two streams of excess matter are ejected from the poles. These fountainlike jets keep the star from spinning so fast that it tears itself apart.

This is the first time astronomers have seen excess matter ejected in spherical bubbles instead of in straight jets.

"The thing is, it's not the classical way we understand stars form," Ho said. "How important it is only time can tell."

The array of 10 receivers has made it possible for astronomers to view objects such as the bubble with finer detail.

Astronomers now must find how common such bubbles are during star formation, said William C. Danchi, an astronomer at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who was not involved in the research.

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