June 10, 2009

Scientists discover two newborn stars

Astronomers using the infrared capability of the U.S. space agency's Spitzer Space Telescope have found two newborn stars at the center of our galaxy.

The heart of the Milky Way spiral galaxy is cluttered with stars, dust and gas, and at its center, a supermassive black hole, National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists said. Conditions there are harsh, but astronomers have known stars can form in such chaotic space, however, until now nobody had been able to definitively locate any such baby stars.

These stars are like needles in a haystack, said Solange Ramirez, the principal investigator of the research at NASA's Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology. There's no way to find them using optical light, because dust gets in the way. We needed Spitzer's infrared instruments to cut through the dust and narrow in on the objects.

The young stars are less than 1 million years old, the researchers said. They are embedded in cocoons of gas and dust that eventually flattens to disks, which -- according to theory -- later lump together to form planets.

The discovery has been submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.