The first close-up picture of a nascent super massive star and its surroundings has shown that the highest mass stars in the universe form just like their smaller counterparts. They are born from swirling disks of gas and dust, rather than from violent stellar collisions.
"How these high mass stars form has been a debate for 20 years," said Stefan Kraus, a research fellow in the University of Michigan Department of Astronomy who is first author of a paper on the findings published July 15 in Nature.
"We've provided the first clear observational evidence of a compact, solar system-sized, dusty disk around a massive young star."
The star they studied is only about 60,000 years old. The sun, by contrast, is about 4.6 billion years old.
The researchers used a technique called interferometry, which combined the light gathered by multiple separate telescopes to achieve the resolving power of an 85-meter telescope.
For their observations, they used the Very Large Telescope Interferometer of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. The resulting resolution is equivalent to picking out the head of a screw on the International Space Station from Earth, or more than 10 times the resolution possible with current visible-light telescopes in space, according to ESO.