Yale Researchers Mapped Star Birth In The Orion A Molecular Cloud ‘To Understand Where We Came From’

New research led by Yale University in Connecticut has taken an in-depth look at the Orion A molecular cloud, producing a set of maps that unveil how massive stars are born.

The project, called the CARMA-NRO Orion Survey, offers a new perspective on the process of star formation within this massive molecular cloud by imaging its structure in “unprecedented detail,” states a news release from the university.

The Orion A molecular cloud lies about 1,200 light-years away from Earth, in the Orion constellation. Part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, just like Orion’s Belt, this giant molecular cloud, which also includes the Orion Nebula, is packed with star-forming environments.

Similarly to the Musca molecular cloud, Orion A is a veritable stellar nursery. The cloud is filled with dense star clusters that closely resemble the birthplace of our sun and where new stars are constantly being born. In fact, Orion A is “the closest star-forming region of high-mass stars,” notes the university.

The CARMA-NRO Orion Survey aims to uncover the process through which molecular clouds give rise to new stars. The research, detailed in a paper published yesterday in the Astrophysical Journal Supplements, is based on a large dataset captured by two different telescopes — the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter Astronomy (CARMA) interferometer located in California and the Nobeyama Radio Observatory (NRO) telescope in Japan.

“We have combined the zoom of CARMA with the wide-angle of NRO to simultaneously capture the details of individual forming stars and the overall shape and motions of the giant molecular cloud,” says Jesse Fedderson, study co-author and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Astronomy at Yale.

The data obtained with the two telescopes was translated into maps that image the Orion A molecular cloud at different velocities, depicting how the gas travels through the cloud at every different speed.

In the image below, each of the three colors (red, green, and blue) represents a different velocity range of the gas in Orion A.

The maps contained by the CARMA-NRO Orion Survey “probe a wide range of physical scales needed to study how stars form in molecular clouds,” says study co-author Shuo Kong, a Yale postdoctoral associate.

Featured in the video below, these maps show not only how the Orion A molecular cloud shapes the process of star formation but also how the newborn stars impact their parent cloud, revealing both sides of the coin.

According to Kong, the new research could offer more clues about how the Milky Way evolved through time.

Understanding how stars are formed is crucial to the understanding of our place in the universe. Interviewed in the video, Fedderson explains why that is.

“Without stars you don’t get planets; without planets, of course, we wouldn’t be here on the Earth, so to understand star formation is to really understand where we came from.”