Exciting news is coming out of Chile today as the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA, has captured high definition photos of a star in its infancy. The results are enlightening (and stunningly beautiful).
ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The telescope array is a state-of-the-art institution that offers precision, sensitivity and resolution to which other projects merely aspire.
Project Lead, Héctor Arce was kind enough to offer some background on the project. "This study is part of a field that tries to understand how stars form, the environment where they form and how the process of star formation affects the surrounding environment.
"Stars form in clouds of gas and dust and as stars form they generate powerful outflows that interact with the surrounding cloud, pushing the dense surrounding material away and affecting the cloud's properties. Our study, using ALMA, the most powerful millimeter telescope, shows that outflows powered by forming stars can have much more impact on the surrounding environment than previously thought."
While still under construction, the ALMA array - which consists of 66 antennas - catalogued the behaviour of a young star nearly 1400 light-years from Earth. Initial reports have indicated startling new information about the way that stars like may have formed. Given ALMA's short time in operation in relation to the information the project has already yielded, the possibilities for future use are extremely exciting.
Arce points out that, "the images you see ... are just a fraction of the information one obtains with the data. What we observe with ALMA is the emission from carbon monoxide gas in the cloud. From this data we can get the intensity of the emission as well as the velocity of the gas."
"One of the major questions that science tries to answer is where do we come from," Arce said. "The Sun is a star, so if we want to understand how our solar system was created, we need to understand how stars are formed. ALMA is one of the newest telescopes available to pursue this research. The results from our paper show how ALMA is furthering our knowledge of how stellar systems, like our solar system, come to being."
Arce went on to say, "Our ALMA results only include observations of one protostellar outflow (the carbon monoxide emissions referenced above). The ALMA data shows that, as expected, this telescope has the resolution and sensitivity to carry out a thorough investigation of how stars form and the environment where they form."
The implications of this new data is incredible. Besides the fact that it's refreshing to see a group of people probing the biggest questions confronting humanity, this new data has the potential to provide great insight into our origin as a species and our destinations in the future. Truly exciting, indeed. You can expect more news to come out of ALMA in the coming months as the team works to gather more information about the life cycle of the cosmos.