Social Sciences Chile , Atacama, Monday, July 07 of 2014, 09:03

Dynamical Star-Forming Gas Interaction Witnessed by ALMA

A research team led by Kazuki Tokuda and Toshikazu Onishi at Osaka Prefecture University conducted ALMA observations of a high-density gas cloud called MC27/L1521F in the constellation Taurus

ALMA/DICYT Dynamical interaction of star-forming gas was found in a star-forming region by observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). This is a remarkable observation result that disproves a conventional assumption that stars are formed by slow contraction of gas clouds.


A research team led by Kazuki Tokuda and Toshikazu Onishi at Osaka Prefecture University conducted ALMA observations of a high-density gas cloud called MC27/L1521F in the constellationTaurus. From past observation results, it was confirmed that MC27 has a new-born star. And by this observation the research team found a new starless high-density core, which is considered to be very close to the initial stage of star formation, right next to the new-born star. Also, the research team detected an extended gas cloud around MC27 which is assumed to be formed by dynamic gravitational interaction of two or more gas cores. Such dynamical kinematics of star formation which was newly found by this observation will be a key factor in understanding star formation process starting from gas clouds.


Stars are formed in molecular cloud cores composed of dust and gas which have several solar masses within 0.1 light years. It has already been known that a protostar (baby star) is formed at the center of the molecular cloud cores with increased density of gas and dust, but the distribution of gas and dust around a protostar, or their distribution and kinematics at the birth of a protostar have not yet been well understood.


To detect a clue to these mysteries, it is necessary to conduct detailed investigation of the environment surrounding a newborn protostar soon after birth or to observe high-density molecular cloud cores at the earliest phase of protostar formation. The research team led by Kazuki Tokuda, a graduate student at Osaka Prefecture University, and Toshikazu Onishi, a professor at the same university, conducted ALMA observations of a molecular cloud core MC27 (about 450 light years away from the Earth in the direction of the constellation Taurus, the Bull) which contains a newborn protostar. By past observations with the Nobeyama Radio Observatory (NRO) 45-m Telescope of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), it was found that MC27 is a very high-density molecular cloud core. Also NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope discovered a very low-luminosity protostar deep inside the high-density molecular cloud core. The research team carried out detailed observations of dust continuum emission at the center of MC27 and molecular lines of HCO+ from high-density gas to study the properties of gas and dust shortly after the birth of a protostar using ALMA that has high sensitivity and high resolution.


The obtained results were far beyond the researcher’s expectations. They found that that the center of MC27 contains not only gas surrounding the protostar but also two high-density gas condensations (Figure 1). One of the gas condensations MMS-2 at a distance of 200 au from the protostar is the highest-density molecular cloud core (with tens of millions of gas molecules within 1 cubic centimeter) ever found in low-mass star forming regions. The research team presumes that MMS-2 is at a stage very close to the birth of a protostar.


A newborn protostar is surrounded by a large amount of gas and dust, which are pulled toward the growing protostar by gravity. Since the interstellar matter around the protostars is absorbed into the protostar or blown away within hundreds of thousands of years after the birth of a protostar, it is not easy to probe the conditions of gas and dust at the birth of a protostar. Kazuki Tokuda says, "It was very exciting when we found a star-forming gas condensation right next to the protostar. We might say we are witnessing star-forming gas at the very moment of birth of a star. We will study further and gain better understanding of star formation mechanism."


Another finding of this observation is an outflow of gas from the protostar. This outflow is smaller than the outflows ever observed around other protostars. From its dimensions and velocity, the outflow from the protostar is supposed to have occurred from several decades to 200 years ago, which indicates that the protostar is very young. ALMA captured the site where a newborn star just after birth and an "egg of a star" are growing together.


A further surprising result is the existence of an extended gas cloud which looks like a tail of MMS-2. The length of the cloud reaches 200 au and its velocity is somewhat different from that of the molecular cloud core. Shu-ichiro Inutsuka, a professor at Nagoya University and one of the research collaborators, says, "This long-shaped structure is supposed to be formed by strong gravitational interaction between fast-moving molecular cloud cores." In physics, "turbulence" indicates a state of gas flow where gas moves around chaotically. When a swirling turbulence occurs, gas clouds are broken apart into smaller clouds. These reshaped small gas clouds are constantly on the move while pulling each other by gravity and their influence ripples across the surrounding environment in a wave-like formation and makes an extended gas structure which looks like a bow.


The research team assumes the extended gas structure found in MC27 would be associated with such dynamic gas movement as described. Tomoaki Matsumoto, a professor at Hosei University and a member of the research team, did computer simulations of gas clouds where strong turbulence is taking place. As a result of the study, it was found that small gas clouds could form stars inside them while revolving around each other and evolve into a multiple star system with multiple orbits around each other. The obtained results can be interpreted as an initial phase of multiple star formation process.


Toshikazu Onishi, a member of the research team says, "We first obtained observational data of MMS-2, an extended gas cloud, and a gas outflow at a very early stage by using ALMA. These results will greatly contribute to the establishment of multiple star formation theory. We expect that further detailed observations of MC27 and future ALMA observations of other molecular cloud cores will bring rapid progress in understanding of the star formation mechanism and its process."