Getting Baby Stars to “Dohsey-doh” Well with Others

One hundred billion stars whirl about each other and, collectively, around the Galaxy, yet rarely do they ever collide. This is because stars are much more likely to interact with each other the way people do in a square dance: namely, by approaching one’s partner, linking arms while skipping in a full circle ’dosey-doh,’ and then making a retreat.

One tries to avoid the full-on collision to preserve the health of one’s partners. Stars interact similarly to well-trained square dancers, by exchanging momentum with the partner star. The two stars approach, describe a circular ‘dosey-doh,’ and then move away. Having said that, every so often two stars find themselves on a path to a direct collision. This event is so unlikely, and so short-lived, that astronomers do not often get the opportunity to see it.

One of the best chances to look for such an unfortunate activity is in stellar nurseries called molecular clouds. This is because stars are born in groups and ‘incubate’ close to each other. It is only later than when they are fully established stars calmly converting hydrogen into helium that they drift away from their siblings to safer distances.

Astronomers have recently discovered the remnants of a this ultra-rare stellar collision in a molecular cloud in the direction of the constellation of Orion. The event produced a large explosion which sent debris flying in all direction at reckless speeds of greater than 330,000 miles per hour! With high spatial resolution data of the aftermath taken at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, astronomers are able to map out this debris and study the consequences of this collision between two infant stars.

Based on the data, it is inferred that this explosion managed to inflict significant damage to the stellar nursery, and in the process shut down the route to make new stars at that particular location. But not worry, the Milky Way has a healthy birth rate of stars which is likely to continue for a good long while.

Dr. Brenda Frye

About Dr. Brenda Frye

Brenda L. Frye is an observational cosmologist at the Department of Astronomy/Steward Observatory, University of Arizona. She earned her Ph. D. in Astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, assisted by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Her thesis work involved measuring the concentration of the total mass of visible plus dark matter in the fields of massive galaxy clusters, a program requiring the use of some of the largest telescopes in the world.

Moving a mile from her Ph. D. institution, she assumed a postdoctoral position with the Supernova Cosmology Project at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory under the direction of Professor Saul Permutter.

She then treked across the country to take a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Princeton Council on Sciences and Technology Fellowship both at Princeton University.

Moving further east, she became a Lecturer in Physics at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, where a number of European collaborations were formed.

From there she crossed back across the pond to the west coast of the U. S. to become a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of San Francisco.

Her travels have now landed her at her Alma Mater in Tucson, where she teaches and does research. The aims of her research continue to be to use gravitational telescopes in space as 'lenses' to study the properties of dark matter and those of distant galaxies back to when the universe was <900 million years old.

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