According to recent research published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters, young stars go through “surprisingly frequent” feeding frenzy episodes where they devour matter at a rapid rate and enlarge. According to NASA, until recently it was challenging to study the birth and growth of the youngest stars since their nebulae of origin veiled them from view.

Examining cosmic infants

It is difficult to observe stars using ground-based telescopes less than 100,000 years old, or “class 0 protostars.” These stars are comparable to a 7-hour-old baby in the universe. According to NASA, since the first such outburst was discovered almost a century ago, they have become increasingly rare. However, research has shown that these feeding outbursts occur about every 400 years. When the young, expanding star swallows material from the discs of gas and dust surrounding it, it emits these outbursts as a warning.

Using data from Spitzer to identify star feeding

Even though these outbursts are challenging to observe, data from the Spitzer telescope—whose 16-year run of observations came to an end in 2020—was ideally suited to help researchers see through the dense clouds of dust and gas and examine the stars inside. This is a result of Spitzer’s long-lasting gaze and infrared capabilities.

The scientists examined Spitzer data from the Orion constellation’s star-forming clouds, collected between 2004 and 2017. Three feeding outbursts were discovered when the data was analyzed, with two of them being previously undiscovered.

Following that, they compared Spitzer data with data from several telescopes, such as the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the decommissioned Herschel Space Telescope, and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). They calculated that these feeding surges persist for roughly 15 years using this information. During this early stage of a star’s life, half or more of its mass is added.

Researchers will be able to better grasp star creation and growth thanks to these new discoveries. In fact, NASA claims that it’s even possible that such outbursts once helped our Sun grow bigger. Although the Sun is larger than the observed stars, the researchers state that there is “no reason to believe” that it did not experience outbursts.

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