A team of astronomers has pieced together data from orbiting observatories to create this image of a star undergoing a huge growth spurt during the earliest phase of its development.
In the images, the protostar known as HOPS 383 appears to accumulate a huge mass of gas and dust in a very short period. Known as a "Class 0" protostar — the earliest developmental stage for stars like the sun — it can be seen gathering matter, contracting under its own gravity, and getting ever hotter at its centre. "HOPS 383 is the first outburst we've ever seen from a Class 0 object, and it appears to be the youngest protostellar eruption ever recorded," explains William Fischer, a NASA researcher on the team who spotted it, in a press release.
The Class 0 phase of a star's life is is short — perhaps just 150,000 years. HOPS 383 sits close to NGC 1977, a nebula in the constellation Orion. It was first spotted in 2014 by astronomer Emily Safron, but has proved to be rather more interesting she perhaps thought. The resulting analysis was carried out using data from Spitzer, Herschel, and ground-based infrared telescopes at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona and the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment in northern Chile. [NASA]