Research

Turbulence and Star Formation

View inside a nebula

Space, as I’ve discussed previously, is surprisingly full of matter, especially clouds of dust. And yet the rate of star formation we observe is bizarrely low; the Milky Way, for example, produces only about one solar mass worth of new stars every year. If gravity were the sole force driving star formation, we’d see far more stars forming. Recent research suggests that turbulence plays a major role in regulating the star formation process, both by countering gravity’s attempts to collapse gases into a proto-star and by creating supersonic shocks that drive material together to jump-start star formation. There seem to be other important ingredients as well: young stars tend to form jets that blow material back into the interstellar clouds they’re forming in, feeding the turbulent background. For more, check out Physics Today. (Image credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble/ESO, via APOD; research credit: C. Federrath)

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