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A new kind of star: ancient smokers at the heart of the Milky Way – dpa

A new kind of star: ancient smokers at the heart of the Milky Way – dpa

BWhile searching for very young stars, an international research team unexpectedly found a new type of very old star in the central region of the Milky Way. They emit thick clouds of dust, which is why astronomers called them ancient smokers.

Scientists reported in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society that emitted dust could play an important role in the formation of new stars and planets in some regions of the galaxy.

What we were looking for was something completely different

“Our actual goal was to discover so-called protostars, which exhibit enormous bursts of brightness lasting for months or even many years,” says Zhen Guo of Valparaiso University in Chile.

“These explosions occur in the rotating disk of gas and dust around newly born stars – and can make planet formation more difficult.” Until now, astronomers do not know the cause of the explosions. That's why Gu and his colleagues wanted to record as many of these outbreaks as possible and track them as they progressed.

In their research, the researchers used data from an observation project running since 2010 at the European Southern Observatory's VESTA telescope in Chile, which measures the brightness of about a billion stars in the central thickness of the Milky Way. Vista observes in the infrared and is therefore particularly suitable for detecting newly born stars. These elements are often hidden behind clouds of dust and therefore invisible to optical telescopes, but infrared radiation can penetrate the dust.

The team was successful: Gu and his colleagues identified 32 protostars that contained flares that increased in brightness by up to three hundred times. Many of these eruptions are still ongoing, giving researchers the first opportunity to follow the mysterious phenomena along their path.

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