Birth of a (Magnetic) Heavyweight

By Phil Berardelli
ScienceNOW Daily News
16 November 2009

Astronomers caught a glimpse of the emergence of a massive star for the first time. The
observations confirm that magnetic fields play a strong role in the formation of these
solar giants.

The death of massive stars is reasonably well known--most blow their innards across
galaxies in titanic explosions called supernovae--but their birth is another story. Solar
giants are relatively rare, and they form inside giant clouds of gas and dust that block
the view of optical telescopes.

Lucky for astronomers, they managed to look at just the right patch of sky with a powerful
new observing tool. That patch is located about 1300 light-years away, within the Great
Nebula of the constellation Orion. Inside a vast cloud of dust and gas that is known as
one of the Milky Way galaxy's premier star-hatcheries, the team found a zone emitting
strong radio waves with the chemical signature of silicon monoxide gas, a strong indicator
that the starmaking process is at work.