Star Birth in M83, the Southern Pinwheel

NASA has recently reported the birth of a new star, captured by the new camera installed on the Hubble Space Telescope. The image is the most detailed view of star birth ever made. This rare phenomenon occurred in the graceful, curving arms of the nearby spiral galaxy M83.
 Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 Image Details Star Birth in Galaxy M83. (Source: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))
Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 Image Details Star Birth in Galaxy M83. (Source: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

The M83 galaxy is nicknamed “the Southern Pinwheel” because of its peculiar shape. It is subject to faster star formations in comparison to our own Milky Way galaxy, especially in its nucleus. Recently, the Wide Field Camera 3, stationed on the Hubble Space Telescope, captured hundreds of young star clusters, ancient swarms of globular star clusters, and hundreds of thousands of individual stars, mostly blue and red supergiants.

The image reveals in unprecedented detail the current rapid rate of star birth. The newest generations of stars are forming largely in clusters on the edges of the dark dust lanes, the backbone of the spiral arms. These young stars, only a few million years old, come out of their dusty cocoons while producing bubbles of reddish glowing hydrogen gas. Later on, when they cool down, they emit light, indicating to researchers their existence.

According to current theories, a bar of stars, gas, and dust slicing across the galaxy are instigating most of the star birth in the galaxy’s core. The bar funnels material to the galaxy’s center, where the most active star formation is taking place. Observations have shown that the brightest star clusters reside along an arc near the core.

The successful imaging of the new star was possible thanks to the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which was installed during Servicing Mission 4 (also covered by TFOT) in May of 2009. The camera’s attributes provided the technological edge required: it has broad wavelength range, from ultraviolet to near-infrared, which reveals stars at different stages of evolution. These qualities enable astronomers to dissect the galaxy’s star-formation history.

This latest image offers numerous details and ideas for future research. For instance, the remains of about 60 supernova blasts – evidence of massive stars’ deaths – can be seen in the image. Although such events are known to happen in that region, astronomers believe they are much scarcer. By studying the remnants of supernovas, astronomers can better understand the nature of the progenitor stars, which are responsible for the creation and dispersal of most of the galaxy’s heavy elements.

TFOT has also covered Hubble’s capture of merging galaxies, bringing astronomers rare images, and the aforementioned STS-125 Final Shuttle Mission, sent in order to install the WFC3. Other TFOT related stories include Rare Jupiter Collision, discussing the event as caused by the impact of a comet or an asteroid, and another story on the birth of a magnetic neutron star as observed by NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer.

For more information about the birth of stars, see Hubble’s website.