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Scientists may have solved one of the most longstanding astrophysical mysteries of all times: How massive stars – up to 120 times the mass of our sun – form without blowing away the clouds of gas and dust that feed their growth.
New research by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, University of California, Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley has shown how a massive star can grow despite outward-flowing radiation pressure that exceeds the gravitational force pulling material inward. The study appears in the Jan. 15 online edition of Science Express.
Using 3-D radiation hydrodynamics simulations, the group, which includes Livermore’s Richard Klein, who also is an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, and his LLNL postdoc Andrew Cunningham, unexpectedly discovered that these massive stars also tend to occur in binary or multiple star systems.
“Originally, we were just exploring the physics of massive star formation,” Klein said. “As we were looking at the physics, we found that gravitational instabilities cause companion stars to form around massive stars.”
Massive stars produce so much light that the radiation pressure they exert on the gas and dust around them is stronger than their gravitational attraction, a circumstance that has long been expected to prevent them from growing by accretion (the growth of a massive object by gravitationally attracting more matter).