Unravelling how stars form

Impact summary

Dr Katharine Johnston has been the lead author of a research paper explaining how observations led by astronomers have shown for the first time that a massive star, 25 times the mass of the Sun, is forming in a similar way to low-mass stars.

The discovery, made using a new state-of-the-art telescope called the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), which is based in Chile, South America was published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Underpinning research

The research is one of the final pieces of the puzzle in understanding the lifetimes of the most massive and luminous stars, called O-type stars.

These stars are major contributors to heavy element production in the Universe, such as iron and gold, which they eject into space in dramatic supernovae explosions at the end of their lives.

Bit by bit, evidence for massive stars forming in a similar way to low-mass stars has been growing.

However, until now, rotating disks that look exactly like the ones around low-mass stars were only seen around B-type stars, which are less than 18 times the mass of the Sun.