What is the birth of a star like?

What is the birth of a star like?

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Here's what I'm curious about. So this hydrogen gas collects and at some point, it eventually becomes a star. What does that process look like? If you were there as a witness to the formation of a star (greatly speeded up, of course), what would you see. What stages would the gas go through? Would it first form a gas giant planet at some point? With perhaps a solid core of something covered with metallic hydrogen and then hydrogen gas over that? Or does it form differently?

I assume at some point a critical pressure/temperature point is reached and fission begins. What does that look like? Does the whole thing just burst into flames or does it take time?

And somewhat relatedly, I'm curious how large stars form. Why wouldn't it first form as a small star? I have always assumed that once the star ignites, it's going to radiate away any of the collecting gas. But maybe that assumption is invalid. Will the gas continue to collect due to the gravity and the nature of the star simply evolves as the gas collects?

I've never really seen a sort of "diary of a star's birth" kind of description.

How newborn stars prepare for the birth of planets

ALMA and the VLA observed more than 300 protostars and their young protoplanetary disks in Orion. This image shows a subset of stars, including a few binaries. The ALMA and VLA data compliment each other: ALMA sees the outer disk structure (visualized in blue), and the VLA observes the inner disks and star cores (orange). Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Tobin NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello

An international team of astronomers used two of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world to create more than three hundred images of planet-forming disks around very young stars in the Orion Clouds. These images reveal new details about the birthplaces of planets and the earliest stages of star formation.

Most of the stars in the universe are accompanied by planets. These planets are born in rings of dust and gas, called protoplanetary disks. Even very young stars are surrounded by these disks. Astronomers want to know exactly when these disks start to form, and what they look like. But young stars are very faint, and there are dense clouds of dust and gas surrounding them in stellar nurseries. Only highly sensitive radio telescope arrays can spot the tiny disks around these infant stars amidst the densely packed material in these clouds.

For this new research, astronomers pointed both the National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to a region in space where many stars are born: the Orion Molecular Clouds. This survey, called VLA/ALMA Nascent Disk and Multiplicity (VANDAM), is the largest survey of young stars and their disks to date.

Very young stars, also called protostars, form in clouds of gas and dust in space. The first step in the formation of a star is when these dense clouds collapse due to gravity. As the cloud collapses, it begins to spin—forming a flattened disk around the protostar. Material from the disk continues to feed the star and make it grow. Eventually, the left-over material in the disk is expected to form planets.

Many aspects about these first stages of star formation, and how the disk forms, are still unclear. But this new survey provides some missing clues as the VLA and ALMA peered through the dense clouds and observed hundreds of protostars and their disks in various stages of their formation.

The Orion Molecular Clouds, the target of the VANDAM survey. Yellow dots are the locations of the observed protostars on a blue background image made by Herschel. Side panels show nine young protostars imaged by ALMA (blue) and the VLA (orange). Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Tobin NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello Herschel/ESA

Young planet-forming disks

"This survey revealed the average mass and size of these very young protoplanetary disks," said John Tobin of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Virginia, and leader of the survey team. "We can now compare them to older disks that have been studied intensively with ALMA as well."

What Tobin and his team found, is that very young disks can be similar in size, but are on average much more massive than older disks. "When a star grows, it eats away more and more material from the disk. This means that younger disks have a lot more raw material from which planets could form. Possibly bigger planets already start to form around very young stars."

Four special protostars

Among hundreds of survey images, four protostars looked different than the rest and caught the scientists' attention. "These newborn stars looked very irregular and blobby," said team member Nicole Karnath of the University of Toledo, Ohio (now at SOFIA Science Center). "We think that they are in one of the earliest stages of star formation and some may not even have formed into protostars yet."

Schematic shows a proposed pathway (top row) for the formation of protostars, based on four very young protostars (bottom row) observed by VLA (orange) and ALMA (blue). Step 1 represents the collapsing fragment of gas and dust. In step 2, an opaque region starts to form in the cloud. In step 3, a hydrostatic core starts to form due to an increase in pressure and temperature, surrounded by a disk-like structure and the beginning of an outflow. Step 4 depicts the formation of a class 0 protostar inside the opaque region, that may have a rotationally supported disk and more well-defined outflows. Step 5 is a typical class 0 protostar with outflows that have broken through the envelope (making it optically visible), an actively accreting, rotationally supported disk. In the bottom row, white contours are the protostar outflows as seen with ALMA. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), N. Karnath NRAO/AUI/NSF, B. Saxton and S. Dagnello

It is special that the scientists found four of these objects. "We rarely find more than one such irregular object in one observation," added Karnath, who used these four infant stars to propose a schematic pathway for the earliest stages of star formation. "We are not entirely sure how old they are, but they are probably younger than ten thousand years."

To be defined as a typical (class 0) protostar, stars should not only have a flattened rotating disk surrounding them, but also an outflow—spewing away material in opposite directions—that clears the dense cloud surrounding the stars and makes them optically visible. This outflow is important, because it prevents stars from spinning out of control while they grow. But when exactly these outflows start to happen, is an open question in astronomy.

One of the infant stars in this study, called HOPS 404, has an outflow of only two kilometers (1.2 miles) per second (a typical protostar-outflow of 10-100 km/s or 6-62 miles/s). "It is a big puffy sun that is still gathering a lot of mass, but just started its outflow to lose angular momentum to be able to keep growing," explained Karnath. "This is one of the smallest outflows that we have seen and it supports our theory of what the first step in forming a protostar looks like."

Combining ALMA and VLA

The exquisite resolution and sensitivity provided by both ALMA and the VLA were crucial to understand both the outer and inner regions of protostars and their disks in this survey. While ALMA can examine the dense dusty material around protostars in great detail, the images from the VLA made at longer wavelengths were essential to understand the inner structures of the youngest protostars at scales smaller than our solar system.

"The combined use of ALMA and the VLA has given us the best of both worlds," said Tobin. "Thanks to these telescopes, we start to understand how planet formation begins."

N. Karnath et al. Detection of Irregular, Submillimeter Opaque Structures in the Orion Molecular Clouds: Protostars within 10,000 yr of Formation?, The Astrophysical Journal (2020). DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ab659e

The Orion Nebula: A Star Nursery by Andrew Fraknoi

Stars don't last forever. Old stars eventually die and new ones are born from great clouds of gas and dust in space. (See our page on the Lives of Stars.) The best known and closest site where astronomers can regularly observe the birth of stars is 1500 light years away from us and is called the Orion Nebula.

On winter evenings, Orion is one of the easiest star patterns to find in the sky. Its identifying feature is a row of three stars which make up the belt of the legendary hunter, Orion. Above the belt is the bright reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced "Beetle-juice"). Below the belt is the bluish star Rigel ("Rye-gil"), and hanging from the belt is a straight "sword" of dimmer stars. On this sword of stars, ancient observers were very impressed to find what looked like a splotch of blood, as if the hunter were returning from fresh victory. That fuzzy splotch, visible to the naked eye when it is really dark (and easily seen through binoculars) is the Orion Nebula.

Through larger telescopes and with carefully processed images, the Nebula reveals itself to be a magnificent web of glowing gas and dark dust, illuminated by the energy of the adolescent stars that recently formed inside it. The group of four bright stars noticeable in the center is called the Trapezium telescopes have revealed that there are actually 11 stars in the tight central group and over 2,000 new stars in the immediate neighborhood. (These stars are all less than a million years old, mere babies by astronomical standards.) Just one of the stars is the dominant source of energy for the glowing nebula. Called by the technical name Theta-1C Orionis, this star has enough material to make 40 stars like the Sun and shines as brightly as 210,000 Suns. Like all "superstars," it will go through its life very quickly and is likely to explode in a few million years. Such explosions compress nearby regions of gas and allow them to start forming the next generation of stars. Chemical analysis of comets and asteroids in the solar system indicate that our sun and its planets formed in one such second-generation event, 4.5 billion years ago.

Throughout the nebula (which is about 30 light years wide), we see a significant number of infant stars that are surrounded by disks of darker material, many of which are likely to make a system of planets like the one that surrounds our Sun. Observations with the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed over 150 such "getting-ready-to-make-planets" disks, an indication that the birth of stars is frequently accompanied by the birth of planets.

Imposing as it is, the Orion Nebula is merely a visible "blister" on a much larger structure of cosmic raw material that lies behind it from our perspective on Earth. Part of this cloud is visible, and can be seen in wide-angle shots of the Orion Nebula's surroundings in the film. But most of this Orion Molecular Cloud (as it is called, because the gas and dust has been found to contain an assortment of primitive molecules) is invisible to the human eye. It stretches over 100 light years and contains enough gas to make 200,000 Suns. We know the cloud is there because the materials reveal themselves with infra-red light and radio waves. Less than 1% of the gas has been turned into stars, both because star formation is still continuing and because it is a messy, inefficient process&mdashleaving lots of unused gas and dust behind.

Indeed, astronomers have recorded a wave of star formation moving from northwest to southeast through the region of the sky where we see the ancient hunter figure. Stars near the shoulder of the hunter formed about 12 million years ago, the stars that make up the belt are about 8 million years old, and there are stars in the Orion Nebula that are still forming today. Millions of years from now, future astronomers will record the wave of new stars passing deeper into the great molecular cloud, its creative and destructive energies far from spent.

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Some Comments on the Chart

Looking over the chart, you may have noticed that it's missing entries for several ages&mdashnotably 2, 3, 5, and 7&mdashand that our entry for age 6, Barnard's Star, is too dim to be seen without a telescope. But at greater distances there's a bright star for nearly every age. What's up with that? The reason is that as we go out farther, we're sampling steeply larger volumes of space, and therefore have more stars to choose from. (The volume goes up as 4/3?R3, where ? = 3.14 and R is the distance, meaning the radius of the sphere in which we are searching.) In cases where we had several options, we have picked the brightest star visible from northern latitudes, where most&mdashthough by no means all!&mdashobservers dwell.

Certain commercial concerns offer to "name" stars for individuals&mdashat a price. These star "registries" have no official sanction. Astronomical objects are named by the International Astronomical Union, according to internationally agreed-upon protocols which do not permit naming stars for living persons. Stars rarely get names these days, but catalog numbers But while you cannot legitimately name a star for yourself or a friend or family member, we invite you to observe a star whose light is as old as you are, or they are, and to possess a photo of it if you like. Like the night sky, it's free!

Our list of Birthday Stars is based on a book project of that title initiated by Timothy Ferris in 1997. For another approach, visit the Joint Astronomy Center in Hawaii.

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SOFIA and star birth in the Swan

Nebulae are clouds of gas and dust, and there are untold millions of them in the galaxy. Some are tiny, just knots of material, and others are vast, sprawling across many light years, with complex structures and histories.

One such nebula lies about 5,000 light years away in the constellation of Sagittarius. It goes by many names: Messier 17, the Omega Nebula, the Swan Nebula… it's so big and bright that it's an easy target with binoculars, and through even a modest telescope the looping "omega" shape that gives it one of its names is obvious. Inside that is a brighter patch of gas that does indeed look like a swan (though usually upside as seen in photos) I've seen this myself at the eyepiece.

More Bad Astronomy

That part of the nebula is a star factory. Hundreds of stars are being cooked up inside the cloud, star birth set to mass production mode. Small clumps of gas and dust are collapsing, forming dense cocoons around stars just starting to ignite the thermonuclear fires in their cores. From the outside and in visible light these look dark, their thick shells blocking the nascent starlight within.

But if you look in the infrared, outside the colors our eye detects, the light from these protostars leaks through. They can be seen along with the greater clouds of material around them, producing an image that's as lovely as it is scientifically informative:

The Swan Nebula is a site of star formation. Herschel And Spitzer space observatories see the stars and outer gaseous regions, while SOFIA observations (blue and green) show gas and dust where stars are in the process of being born. Credit: NASA/SOFIA/Lim, De Buizer, & Radomski et al. ESA/Herschel NASA/JPL-Caltech

That is the heart of the swan as seen by not one but three infrared observatories. Besides the type of light they are sensitive to, they have in common something else: They aren't ground based. One is Herschel, a European space observatory another is Spitzer, a NASA space telescope and the third is SOFIA, which is also a NASA observatory, but it's not in space. It's on an airplane. Seriously! They literally cut a hole in the side of a 747 and the telescope looks through it, high above most of the bright atmosphere of Earth. Also, infrared is absorbed by carbon dioxide, so getting up to 747 cruising height greatly diminishes that absorption, allowing light from the heavens to be detected.

These three observatories see different structures in the nebulosity. The outer parts (red and orange) seen by Herschel and Spitzer, are mostly dust warmed by starlight. The inner part, though, shown in blue and green, are from SOFIA. The blue is gas, likely glowing due to the energy pumped into it from the already formed stars. The green, though, is more dust, and some it is composed of those proto-stellar cocoons in these wavelengths light from the not-quite-yet stars forming inside manages to work its way out, making the dust glow.

The astronomers who took the SOFIA images are using the airborne observatory to investigate star formation in big gas clouds, looking for the youngest objects there that haven't actually yet become true stars. They found 9 new compact sources of infrared light in addition to 7 previously known ones. Carefully examining the light from those 16 objects indicates that 7 of them could be what are called massive young stellar objects, massive stars in the process of forming. There are likely far more lower-mass stars forming there, but they may not have the power necessary to be seen in these images.

The Swan Nebula in visible light, taken with the ESO 3.6-meter telescope in Chile. The Swan is the bright part in the center (it looks upside-down), and the nebulosity as a whole is called the Omega Nebula, for its resemblance to the Greek letter. Credit: ESO

Along with those objects they were able to observe a compact source called UC1, and found it to be a protostar weighing in at a whopping 64 times the Sun's mass. That's a lot. Low mass stars are common, but higher mass stars are more rare. To find one that massive is exceptional there aren't many in our galaxy at all. Once it's done forming it won't live long at that mass it'll fuse hydrogen into helium furiously, burning through its fuel in a couple of million years. After that it will go through helium fusion, then carbon, and up the periodic table until it tries to fuse iron. That's a problem, because it takes more energy to fuse iron than it gets out. A complicated series of extremely rapid events follows, which ends with inevitability: The star will explode, becoming a supernova. At that distance it may be visible to the unaided eye, though it's hard to say since there's so much dust there that will diminish the light. But boom it will go.

The astronomers also looked at the ages of the stars in the nebula and found something interesting: The north part of the nebula (toward the top of the image) is older than the southern part. Most of the very young objects are in the southern part. This shows that star formation can come in waves in a nebula, depending on conditions inside. But this is helpful, since it means these conditions can in principle be measured, allowing astronomers to better understand what triggers star formation in clouds like this one.

The Swan is a summer object for northern hemisphere denizens like myself. I'll be out in the mountains of Colorado a couple of times this summer, where skies are dark. I'll make a point to take a look at this nebula through my 'scope while the view of it will be substantially different than with SOFIA, it is the same object, and the photons I see will have traveled 50 thousand trillion kilometers from the gas and stars there to my eye. And now, when they do, I'll know a little bit more about what I'm seeing.

Star of Bethlehem: The astronomical explanations

It might seem churlish to dissect such an enduring image of Christmas as the star of Bethlehem, but a quiet astronomical debate has been bubbling away for decades. Could some real cosmic event have drawn "three wise men" on a journey to find a newborn king?

This debate requires one very big assumption - that the story of the star and the journey is true.

Prof David Hughes, an astronomer from the University of Sheffield, first published a review of the theories on the famous star in the 1970s.

Having spent many years studying the astronomical explanations and reviewing the associated biblical stories, he is now an expert on the subject.

But there are some intriguing historical parallels.

The three kings were religious scholars known as the Magi - revered Babylonian astronomers and astrologists. They studied the stars and planets, interpreting the meaning behind cosmic events.

Anything very unusual was considered an omen, so the star must have been both rare and visually spectacular. And, says Hughes, it would have had a very clear message for the Magi.

This leads the astronomer to conclude that the star of Bethlehem was probably not a star at all, and that it was more than one single event.

"If you read the Bible carefully," says Hughes, "the Magi saw something when they were in their own country - [probably Babylon] - so they travelled to Jerusalem and had a word with King Herod."

According to the story, the Magi told Herod of the sign they had seen and, says Hughes, "when they left Jerusalem [for] Bethlehem, they saw something again".

Hughes's best explanation for this series of events is something known as a triple conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn - with the two planets coming close together in the sky three times over a short period.

"[This happens when] you get an alignment between the Sun, the Earth, Jupiter and Saturn," says Hughes.

Tim Oɻrien, associate director of Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, suggests this would have looked striking. "It's remarkable how much your attention is drawn when two very bright objects come together in the sky," he explains.

And once the planets lined up in their orbits, Earth would "overtake" the others, meaning that Jupiter and Saturn would appear to change direction in the night sky.

"At that time, people would have set great store by the motions of the planets," says Oɻrien.

Even more significantly, the event is believed to have been in the constellation Pisces, which represents one of the signs of the zodiac.

"You would [only] get a triple conjunction like this about every 900 years," he says, so for astronomers in Babylon 2,000 years ago, it would have been a signal of something very significant.

"A triple conjunction of this kind ticks all the boxes."

The second favoured explanation is a very bright comet.

While certainly spectacular and ethereal in appearance, comets are essentially "big, dirty snowballs" flying through space.

"When they come close to the Sun, this ice melts - solar wind blows this material out into space, so you get a tail of matter coming off the comet," explains Oɻrien.

This tail, which points away from the Sun, is one of the things that has made the comet idea popular, explains Hughes.

"Quite a few people have said that comets seem to 'stand over' the Earth, because of their coma and tail sometimes looking like an arrow," says Hughes.

The most timely record was of a bright comet appearing in the constellation of Capricorn in 5BC, which was recorded by astronomers in China.

A less likely, but more famous candidate was Halley's comet, which was visible around 12BC.

Those who favour this theory point out that the 5BC comet would have been in the southern sky as seen from Jerusalem, with the head of the comet close to the horizon and the tail is pointing vertically upward.

"Quite a lot of people liked the comet idea, so it crops up in quite a lot of Christmas cards," says Hughes.

"The snag is that they're not that rare. They were also commonly associated with the ɿour Ds' - doom, death, disease and disaster," he suggests. "So if it did contain a message, it would have been a bad omen."

Another theory is that the star was light from the birth of a new star, or nova.

There are records - again from astronomers in the Far East - of a new star in the small, northern constellation of Aquila in 4BC.

Hughes says: "People who like this theory say this new star would have been [positioned] directly over Jerusalem."

Dr Robert Cockcroft, manager of the McCallion Planetarium at McMaster University in Ontario says a nova is "a good candidate" for the star of Bethlehem.

"It can ɺppear' as a new star in a constellation, and fade again over the following months," he explains.

"It is also not too bright, explaining why we don't have any records of it in the west." Cockcroft suggests that this might also have given the three wise men something to follow.

While other "omens" would have been needed to cause the Magi to set out on their journey west to Jerusalem, he says , it would take them months to get there, "by which time Aquila [and the new star could have] risen in the sky to appear in the south.

"Bethlehem lies due south of Jerusalem, so that Magi could ɿollow' the star to Bethlehem."

Other more improbable but entertaining theories have been proposed over the years, says Hughes.

One he describes as particularly far-fetched was suggested in a 1979 academic paper by the Greek astronomer George Banos. He proposed that the Christmas star was actually the planet Uranus.

Banos suggested that the Magi discovered the planet 1,800 years before the astronomer William Herschel formally recorded the discovery in 1781.

"His idea was that the Magi discovered Uranus, that this was the star of Bethlehem and they then tried to hush up the discovery," Hughes explains.

Follow the Star will be broadcast on Sunday 23 December at 1900 GMT on BBC Radio 2

The Cycle of Life, From a Caterpillar to a Galaxy

I once saw a caterpillar that looked just like the picture above. And despite the somewhat staggering difference in scale, they have something else in common besides shape: They’re both decent metaphors for life cycles.

What you’re seeing in that remarkable shot is the galaxy M82, the host of the recent supernova SN 2014J. This picture was taken before that star blew up, though. M82 is a starburst galaxy, undergoing a huge wave of star birth. It’s producing something like 10 times the mass of the Sun of stars every year, many times what’s happening in our own Milky Way. Astronomers measure star formation rate in terms of the Sun’s mass, not number of stars, because the mass is easier to determine a solar mass of material can create one star like the Sun, or many smaller red dwarf stars that are dim and hard to count (or a fraction of a big, hot star).

The image was taken by the Very Large Array, which detects radio waves, a low energy form of light. It focused on the inner region of M82, about 5’000 light years across (the entire galaxy is about 40,000 light years in diameter). This is where most of the star formation is occurring, and the fierce light of all these stars, born over the past 50 million years, is blasting out gas and dust from the galaxy’s core. What you’re seeing here is fast-moving gas moving outward, as well as light emitted by electrons spinning madly around the strong magnetic fields of the material there.

Photo by Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

It really does look like a wave of material moving outward, which matches the view seen from optical telescopes, like the one here. That’s material getting flung away by the activity in the galaxy’s heart.

The bright dots in the radio image are a mix of gas clouds furiously forming stars and old supernovae that blew up long ago.

And that’s where this galaxy and my caterpillar overlap. In a galaxy like M82 (or ours for that matter), gas clouds form stars. Some of these are high mass, hot stars, which live short lives and explode. In their cores are heavier elements like iron, calcium, oxygen, and more, which get scattered into space by the explosion. This material slams into other gas clouds, which then form more stars, seeded with these heavy elements.

This happened in the Milky Way billions of years ago, and those elements from some long-dead star made their way into you. Your bones, your teeth, your blood, your very DNA have elements in them forged in the heart of a mighty star that violently tore itself to bits so that eventually you may live. It is a transformation on a literally cosmic scale.

I should hope the metaphorical metamorphosis is obvious enough. The only constant in the Universe is change, and much of it is a cycle. Birth, life, death, restructuring, and rebirth. That is also the theme of much of human art, from paintings and movies to myths and great novels.

Some say science is cold, dealing unemotionally with hard data. But that’s far from the reality. Humanity and life are reflected in the stars, and the Universe itself is poetry.

“Million-Year Birth” –Hubble Captures Fiery Creation of a Giant Star Cluster

Most stars in the universe –including our life-giving Population 1, main-sequence Sun, one of more than 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, that formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago–are formed a massive star clusters created from the violent gravitational collapse of matter within a region of a large molecular cloud. These clusters are the building blocks of galaxies, but their actual formation from these dense clouds is a mystery.

The outskirts of our Milky Way Galaxy are orbited by about 150 globular star clusters, among the oldest objects in the galaxy, formed about 11.5 billion years ago, 2.3 billion years after the Big Bang and shortly before the rate of cosmic star formation reached its peak, 10 billion years ago –a period known as “cosmic high noon.” A globular cluster might be the first place in which intelligent life is identified in our galaxy,” according to Rosanne DiStefano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Stars in these ancient clusters contain fewer of the heavy elements needed to construct planets, since those elements (like iron and silicon) must be created in younger generations of stars. In contrast to DiStefano, some scientists have argued that this makes globular cluster population 11 stars less likely to host planets. Only one planet has been found in a globular cluster to date.

The image of cluster G286.21+0.17, caught in the act of formation, is a multi-wavelength mosaic made out of more than 750 individual radio observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and 9 infrared images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The cluster is located in the Carina region of our galaxy, about 8000 light-years away.

Dense clouds made of molecular gas (purple ‘fireworks streamers’) are revealed by ALMA. The telescope observed the motions of turbulent gas falling into the cluster, forming dense cores that ultimately create individual stars.

The stars in the image are revealed by their infrared light, as seen by Hubble, including a large group of stars bursting out from one side of the cloud. The powerful winds and radiation from the most massive of these stars are blasting away the molecular clouds, leaving faint wisps of glowing, hot dust (shown in yellow and red).

“This image shows stars in various stages of formation within this single cluster,” said Yu Cheng of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, and lead author of two papers published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Hubble revealed about a thousand newly-formed stars with a wide range of masses. Additionally, ALMA showed that there is a lot more mass present in dense gas that still has to undergo collapse. “Overall the process may take at least a million years to complete,” Cheng added.

“This illustrates how dynamic and chaotic the process of star birth is,” said co-author Jonathan Tan of Chalmers University in Sweden and the University of Virginia and principal investigator of the project. “We see competing forces in action: gravity and turbulence from the cloud on one side, and stellar winds and radiation pressure from the young stars on the other. This process sculpts the region. It is amazing to think that our own Sun and planets were once part of such a cosmic dance.”

“The phenomenal resolution and sensitivity of ALMA are evident in this stunning image of star formation,” said Joe Pesce, NSF Program Officer for NRAO/ALMA. “Combined with the Hubble Space Telescope data we can clearly see the power of multiwavelength observations to help us understand these fundamental universal processes.”

Source: “Gas Kinematics of the Massive Protocluster G286.21+0.17 Revealed by ALMA”, Yu Cheng et. al., The Astrophysical Journal. “Stellar Variability in a Forming Massive Star Cluster”, Yu Cheng et. al., The Astrophysical Journal.

Image at the top of the page shows star cluster G286.21+0.17, caught in the act of formation. This is a multiwavelength mosaic of more than 750 ALMA radio images, and 9 Hubble infrared images. ALMA shows molecular clouds (purple) and Hubble shows stars and glowing dust (yellow and red). ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Y. Cheng et al. NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello NASA/ESA Hubble.

Rare 'Star of Bethlehem' to Appear Dec. 21: Here's What Astronomy Says About the Biblical Star at Christ's Birth

[CBN News] Later this month, you can witness a rare event in the night sky that has not been seen in almost eight centuries. (Image: NASA /JPL-Caltech-via CBN News) reports the two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, will align on Dec. 21 to create what's sometimes referred to as the "Christmas Star" or the "Star of Bethlehem."

When the planets line up on the day marking the start of the winter solstice, they will appear to form a double planet. It's a rare event and one that hasn't been seen since the Middle Ages, according to But in reality, the planets won't be close at all. It will just look like that to viewers on Earth.

As CBN News has reported, while there have been many theories about the identity of the Biblical star of Bethlehem that appeared at Christ's birth, a combination of historical research, astronomical insight, and Biblical understanding has come together to present a plausible explanation that is both miraculous and understandable.

This theory finds the planet Jupiter to be part of that star. In the ancient world, all heavenly bodies were considered "stars".

The Magi or the three wise men were, most likely, court advisers to Babylon who used the stars to give guidance to the ruler. Why would God guide astrologers, of all people, to the King of kings? This example, according to some writers, was Christ's first human ministry to unbelievers.

Who Exactly Were the Magi?

But who were these mysterious wise men? One ancient Jewish writer Philo speaks of them.

Star of Bethlehem expert Rick Larson once told CBN News that Philo "describes a particular school of Magi, calls it the Eastern school, and these Magi he praises. He says these guys understood the natural order and are able to explain the natural order to others. And they were, according to Philo, probably what we might call proto-scientists." (Image: via

Early church historians had been giving a date of around 3 BC for Christ's birth, though other scholars had been saying 7 BC because of what appears to be a misunderstanding of King Herod's death in between those two dates.

What the Magi likely saw were five astronomical conjunctions that took place over a span of time from August of 3 BC to June of 2 BC. When one planet passes another and, as seen from earth, they line up&mdashthat would have been of great significance to these astrologer-advisers.

We now know what these conjunctions meant to these Magi as they would have observed from their far-off land. The conjunctions involved the constellation Leo the Lion, the planet Venus, the planet Jupiter and the star Regulus.

To the Babylonians, the lion represented Israel. Venus was motherhood. Jupiter stood for fatherhood or kingship. And Regulus symbolized royalty.

Put these together in the Babylonian mindset and what do you get? A clear and repeated message that a grand King had been born in Israel.

Larson used computerized astronomical tools to track the convergence of these heavenly signs involving Jupiter, Venus, Leo, and Regulus, back to when they would have occurred.

"Nine months after that first conjunction&mdashnine months&mdashthe gestation period of a human. We see Jupiter and Venus come together to form the brightest star anyone had ever seen," Larson said.

That would have been in mid-June of 2 BC&mdashagain near Regulus in Leo. Eventually, Larson traces it all to a conclusion on Dec. 25, in 2 BC.

"Of course, they didn't use our calendar&mdashyou know December 25th meant nothing to them. They never heard of December, but to us, it could be a sign and it is interesting that the gifting did occur on December 25th," he said.

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

With today's telescopes, the grandeur of the skies is more visible than ever before. Yet even with the naked eye, the Psalmist proclaimed "the heavens declare the glory of God."

How can he do that? Could the Star of Bethlehem be an example in announcing the Messiah? Or is this some kind of misguided astrology?

"The Bible comes down extremely hard on astrology. Reverence for the stars, the idea that stars order your life or guide you or whatever&mdashdid you know it was a killing offense in the Old Testament?" Larson said.

But the Bible also says that God put signs in the sky. Perhaps the Star of Bethlehem was like a thermometer.

"A thermometer can tell you if it's hot or cold but it can't make you hot or cold&mdashbecause it's not an active agent. Stars are like that. According to the Bible, they can tell you things they can be signs from a higher power, from God on high. But they can't make you do anything, they're burning balls of gas, you know," Larson said.

The Romans Thought the Star Was About Them&mdashInstead, It Announced the King of Kings

Of course, the Romans who ruled most of the known world at the time thought the star was about them and they even put the star on one of their coins with an image of Caesar Augustus, which represents how impressive the star was. A sort of Star of Rome rather than the Star of Bethlehem. And that's probably what made the Magi ride toward Israel.

While the mortal Augustus has long passed from history, Jesus is worshipped by millions around the world as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, The Eternal One Who created the heavens and the signs of His own coming&mdashwho said that one day he would also return.

So the Magi went looking for this infant king to the capital city of the Jews, Jerusalem, and the Jews sent them into Bethlehem, a place from which the Jewish Scriptures prophesied a King would come. The rest is history. Subscribe for free to Breaking Christian News here

Editor's Note: Much of the material for this story was originally researched and written by Gailon Totheroh.

Biblical Astronomy – The Gospel In The Stars

We’re not talking about astrology or horoscopes, but rather the grand design of the skies above which declare the Gospel narrative.

And Elohim said, “Let lights come to be in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and appointed times, and for days and years, Genesis 1:14

When Elohim was questioning Job, He pointed out His command of the Mazzaroth, the twelve signs in the circle of the Zodiac.

Do you bind the bands of Kimah (Pleiades), or loosen the cords of Kesil (Orion)? Do you bring out the constellations (Mazzaroth ) in its season? Or do you lead the Bear (Arcturus) with its sons? Job 38:31-32

The great plan of redemption was told through the stars, long before written records were in place. It is defined with star groups and the names of individual stars.

The heavens (Mazzaroth) are proclaiming the esteem of Ěl And the expanse is declaring the work of His hand.

Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, and there are no words, Their voice is not heard.

Their line (ecliptic) has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He set up a tent for the sun (picture of Yahusha, the Sun of Righteousness, Malachi 4:2),

And it is like a bridegroom coming out of his room, It rejoices like a strong man to run the path.

Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end And naught is hidden from its heat. Psalms 19:1-6

The enemy, Satan, has perverted the story of redemption by causing pagan empires to create alternative stories about the stars.

He has caused believers to shun any knowledge of the zodiac, as he has conditioned them to believe that it is evil.

But the constellations of the Zodiac were created by your Father in heaven, to declare His love for you, and to declare His plan of redemption.

He appoints the number of the stars, He gives names to all of them.” Psalm 147:4