Star formation

Star formation

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Star formation is the process by which dense parts of molecular cloud
Molecular cloud
A molecular cloud, sometimes called a stellar nursery if star formation is occurring within, is a type of interstellar cloud whose density and size permits the formation of molecules, most commonly molecular hydrogen ....

s collapse into a ball of plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

 to form a star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

. As a branch of astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

 star formation includes the study of the interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

 and giant molecular clouds (GMC) as precursors to the star formation process and the study of young stellar object
Young stellar object
Young stellar object denotes a star in its early stage of evolution.This class consists of two groups of objects: protostars and pre–main sequence stars. Sometimes they are divided by mass - massive YSO , intermediate mass YSO and brown dwarfs....

s and planet formation as its immediate products. Star formation theory, as well as accounting for the formation of a single star, must also account for the statistics of binary star
Binary star
A binary star is a star system consisting of two stars orbiting around their common center of mass. The brighter star is called the primary and the other is its companion star, comes, or secondary...

s and the initial mass function
Initial mass function
The initial mass function is an empirical function that describes the mass distribution of a population of stars in terms of their theoretical initial mass...

.

Stellar nurseries



Interstellar clouds


A spiral galaxy
Spiral galaxy
A spiral galaxy is a certain kind of galaxy originally described by Edwin Hubble in his 1936 work The Realm of the Nebulae and, as such, forms part of the Hubble sequence. Spiral galaxies consist of a flat, rotating disk containing stars, gas and dust, and a central concentration of stars known as...

 like the Milky Way
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

 contains star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s, stellar remnants and a diffuse interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

 (ISM) of gas and dust. The latter consists of about 0.1 to 1 particles per cm3 and is typically composed of roughly 70% hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 by mass, with most of the remaining gas consisting of helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

. This medium has been chemically enriched by trace amounts of heavier elements
Metallicity
In astronomy and physical cosmology, the metallicity of an object is the proportion of its matter made up of chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium...

 that were ejected from stars as they passed beyond the end of their main sequence
Main sequence
The main sequence is a continuous and distinctive band of stars that appears on plots of stellar color versus brightness. These color-magnitude plots are known as Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams after their co-developers, Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell...

 lifetime. Higher density regions of the interstellar medium form clouds, or diffuse nebulae
Nebula
A nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and other ionized gases...

, where star formation takes place. In contrast to spirals, an elliptical galaxy
Elliptical galaxy
An elliptical galaxy is a galaxy having an approximately ellipsoidal shape and a smooth, nearly featureless brightness profile. They range in shape from nearly spherical to highly flat and in size from hundreds of millions to over one trillion stars...

 loses the cold component of its interstellar medium within roughly a billion years, which hinders the galaxy from forming diffuse nebulae except through mergers with other galaxies.

In the dense nebulae where stars are produced, much of the hydrogen is in the molecular (H2) form, so these nebulae are called molecular cloud
Molecular cloud
A molecular cloud, sometimes called a stellar nursery if star formation is occurring within, is a type of interstellar cloud whose density and size permits the formation of molecules, most commonly molecular hydrogen ....

s. The largest such formations, called giant molecular clouds, have typical densities of 100 particles per cm3, diameters of 100 ly, masses of up to 6 million solar mass
Solar mass
The solar mass , , is a standard unit of mass in astronomy, used to indicate the masses of other stars and galaxies...

es, and an average interior temperature of 10 K. About half the total mass of the galactic ISM is found in molecular clouds and in the Milky Way
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

 there are an estimated 6,000 molecular clouds, each with more than 100,000 solar masses. The nearest nebula to the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

 where massive stars are being formed is the Orion nebula
Orion Nebula
The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula situated south of Orion's Belt. It is one of the brightest nebulae, and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky. M42 is located at a distance of and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. The M42 nebula is estimated to be 24 light...

, 1300 ly away. However, lower mass star formation is occurring about 400–450 light years distant in the ρ Ophiuchi cloud complex
Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex
The Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex is a dark nebula of gas and dust that is located 1° south of the star ρ Ophiuchi of the constellation Ophiuchus. At an estimated distance of , this cloud is one of the closest star-forming regions to the Solar System....

.

A more compact site of star formation is the opaque clouds of dense gas and dust known as Bok globule
Bok globule
Bok globules are dark clouds of dense cosmic dust and gas in which star formation sometimes takes place. Bok globules are found within H II regions, and typically have a mass of about 2 to 50 solar masses contained within a region about a light year or so across...

s; so named after the astronomer Bart Bok
Bart Bok
Bart Jan Bok was a Dutch-American astronomer.He was born in the Netherlands, but spent a good deal of his childhood days growing up in what was then known as the Dutch East Indies. He was educated at the Leiden and Groningen Universities. In 1929 he married fellow astronomer Dr...

. These can form in association with collapsing molecular clouds or possibly independently. The Bok globules are typically up to a light year across and contain a few solar mass
Solar mass
The solar mass , , is a standard unit of mass in astronomy, used to indicate the masses of other stars and galaxies...

es. They can be observed as dark clouds silhouetted against bright emission nebula
Emission nebula
An emission nebula is a cloud of ionized gas emitting light of various colors. The most common source of ionization is high-energy photons emitted from a nearby hot star...

e or background stars. Over half the known Bok globules have been found to contain newly forming stars.

Empty space


A discovery by the infrared telescope Herschel
Herschel Space Observatory
The Herschel Space Observatory is a European Space Agency space observatory sensitive to the far infrared and submillimetre wavebands. It is the largest space telescope ever launched, carrying a single mirror of in diameter....

 in conjunction with other ground based telescopes, determined that black patches of space in certain areas encompassing a star formation were not dark nebulas but actually vast holes of empty space. Such is the case of the area NGC 1999
NGC 1999
NGC 1999 is a dust filled bright nebula with a vast hole of empty space represented by a black patch of sky, as can be seen in the photograph. It is a reflection nebula, and shines from the light of the variable star V380 Orionis....

 and its star V380 Orionis
V380 Orionis
V380 Ori is a triple-star system located in NGC 1999 near the Orion Nebula. One of the three stars appears to have launched a polar jet that helped to clear the keyhole-shaped hole in the NGC 1999 nebula.-References:...

. The exact cause of this phenomenon is still being investigated, although it has been hypothesized that narrow jets of gas from some of the young stars in the region punctured the sheet of dust and gas, as well as, powerful radiation from a nearby mature star may have helped to create the hole. This was a previously unknown and unexpected step in the star-forming process.

Cloud collapse


An interstellar cloud of gas will remain in hydrostatic equilibrium
Hydrostatic equilibrium
Hydrostatic equilibrium or hydrostatic balance is the condition in fluid mechanics where a volume of a fluid is at rest or at constant velocity. This occurs when compression due to gravity is balanced by a pressure gradient force...

 as long as the kinetic energy
Kinetic energy
The kinetic energy of an object is the energy which it possesses due to its motion.It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes...

 of the gas pressure
Pressure
Pressure is the force per unit area applied in a direction perpendicular to the surface of an object. Gauge pressure is the pressure relative to the local atmospheric or ambient pressure.- Definition :...

 is in balance with the potential energy
Potential energy
In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule...

 of the internal gravitational force. Mathematically this is expressed using the virial theorem, which states that, to maintain equilibrium, the gravitational potential energy must equal twice the internal thermal energy. If a cloud is massive enough that the gas pressure is insufficient to support it, the cloud will undergo gravitational collapse
Gravitational collapse
Gravitational collapse is the inward fall of a body due to the influence of its own gravity. In any stable body, this gravitational force is counterbalanced by the internal pressure of the body, in the opposite direction to the force of gravity...

. The mass above which a cloud will undergo such collapse is called the Jeans mass. The Jeans mass depends on the temperature and density of the cloud, but is typically thousands to tens of thousands of solar masses. This coincides with the typical mass of an open cluster
Open cluster
An open cluster is a group of up to a few thousand stars that were formed from the same giant molecular cloud and have roughly the same age. More than 1,100 open clusters have been discovered within the Milky Way Galaxy, and many more are thought to exist...

 of stars, which is the end product of a collapsing cloud.

In triggered star formation, one of several events might occur to compress a molecular cloud and initiate its gravitational collapse
Gravitational collapse
Gravitational collapse is the inward fall of a body due to the influence of its own gravity. In any stable body, this gravitational force is counterbalanced by the internal pressure of the body, in the opposite direction to the force of gravity...

. Molecular clouds may collide with each other, or a nearby supernova
Supernova
A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

 explosion can be a trigger, sending shocked
Shock wave
A shock wave is a type of propagating disturbance. Like an ordinary wave, it carries energy and can propagate through a medium or in some cases in the absence of a material medium, through a field such as the electromagnetic field...

 matter into the cloud at very high speeds. Alternatively, galactic collisions
Interacting galaxy
Interacting galaxies are galaxies whose gravitational fields result in a disturbance of one another. An example of a minor interaction is a satellite galaxy's disturbing the primary galaxy's spiral arms. An example of a major interaction is a galactic collision.-Satellite interaction:A giant...

 can trigger massive starburst
Starburst (astronomy)
In astronomy, starburst is a generic term to describe a region of space with an abnormally high rate of star formation. It is reserved for truly unusual objects....

s of star formation as the gas clouds in each galaxy are compressed and agitated by tidal forces
Galactic tide
A galactic tide is a tidal force experienced by objects subject to the gravitational field of a galaxy such as the Milky Way. Particular areas of interest concerning galactic tides include galactic collisions, the disruption of dwarf or satellite galaxies, and the Milky Way's tidal effect on the...

. The latter mechanism may be responsible for the formation of globular cluster
Globular cluster
A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is...

s.

A supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
A supermassive black hole is the largest type of black hole in a galaxy, in the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses. Most, and possibly all galaxies, including the Milky Way, are believed to contain supermassive black holes at their centers.Supermassive black holes have...

 at the core of a galaxy may serve to regulate the rate of star formation in a galactic nucleus. A black hole that is accreting infalling matter can become active
Active galactic nucleus
An active galactic nucleus is a compact region at the centre of a galaxy that has a much higher than normal luminosity over at least some portion, and possibly all, of the electromagnetic spectrum. Such excess emission has been observed in the radio, infrared, optical, ultra-violet, X-ray and...

, emitting a strong wind through a collimated relativistic jet
Relativistic jet
Relativistic jets are extremely powerful jets of plasma which emerge from presumed massive objects at the centers of some active galaxies, notably radio galaxies and quasars. Their lengths can reach several thousand or even hundreds of thousands of light years...

. This can limit further star formation. However, the radio emissions around the jets may also trigger star formation. Likewise, a weaker jet may trigger star formation when it collides with a cloud.

As it collapses, a molecular cloud breaks into smaller and smaller pieces in a hierarchical manner, until the fragments reach stellar mass. In each of these fragments, the collapsing gas radiates away the energy gained by the release of gravitational potential energy
Potential energy
In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule...

. As the density increases, the fragments become opaque and are thus less efficient at radiating away their energy. This raises the temperature of the cloud and inhibits further fragmentation. The fragments now condense into rotating spheres of gas that serve as stellar embryos.

Complicating this picture of a collapsing cloud are the effects of turbulence
Turbulence
In fluid dynamics, turbulence or turbulent flow is a flow regime characterized by chaotic and stochastic property changes. This includes low momentum diffusion, high momentum convection, and rapid variation of pressure and velocity in space and time...

, macroscopic flows, rotation
Rotation
A rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center of rotation. A three-dimensional object rotates always around an imaginary line called a rotation axis. If the axis is within the body, and passes through its center of mass the body is said to rotate upon itself, or spin. A rotation...

, magnetic fields and the cloud geometry. Both rotation and magnetic fields can hinder the collapse of a cloud. Turbulence is instrumental in causing fragmentation of the cloud, and on the smallest scales it promotes collapse.

Protostar




A protostellar cloud will continue to collapse as long as the gravitational binding energy can be eliminated. This excess energy is primarily lost through radiation. However, the collapsing cloud will eventually become opaque to its own radiation, and the energy must be removed through some other means. The dust within the cloud becomes heated to temperatures of , and these particles radiate at wavelengths in the far infrared where the cloud is transparent. Thus the dust mediates the further collapse of the cloud.

During the collapse, the density of the cloud increases toward the center and thus the middle region becomes optically opaque first. This occurs when the density is about . A core region, called the First Hydrostatic Core, forms where the collapse is essentially halted. It continues to increase in temperature as determined by the virial theorem. The gas falling toward this opaque region creates shock waves that further heat the core.

When the core temperature reaches about , the thermal energy dissociates the H2 molecules. This is followed by the ionization of the hydrogen and helium atoms. These processes absorb the energy of the contraction, allowing it to continue on timescales comparable to the period of collapse at free fall velocities. After the density of infalling material has dropped below about 10−8 g cm−3, the material becomes sufficiently transparent to allow radiated energy to escape. The combination of convection within the protostar and radiation from the exterior allow the star to contract in radius. This continues until the gas is hot enough for the internal pressure
Pressure
Pressure is the force per unit area applied in a direction perpendicular to the surface of an object. Gauge pressure is the pressure relative to the local atmospheric or ambient pressure.- Definition :...

 to support the protostar against further gravitational collapse—a state called hydrostatic equilibrium
Hydrostatic equilibrium
Hydrostatic equilibrium or hydrostatic balance is the condition in fluid mechanics where a volume of a fluid is at rest or at constant velocity. This occurs when compression due to gravity is balanced by a pressure gradient force...

. When this accretion phase is nearly complete, the resulting object is known as a protostar
Protostar
A protostar is a large mass that forms by contraction out of the gas of a giant molecular cloud in the interstellar medium. The protostellar phase is an early stage in the process of star formation. For a one solar-mass star it lasts about 100,000 years...

.

Accretion of material onto the protostar continues partially through a circumstellar disc. When the density and temperature are high enough, deuterium
Deuterium burning
Deuterium burning is a nuclear fusion reaction that occurs in stars and some substellar objects, in which a deuterium nucleus and a proton combine to form a helium-3 nucleus...

 fusion
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus. This is usually accompanied by the release or absorption of large quantities of energy...

 begins, and the outward pressure
Radiation pressure
Radiation pressure is the pressure exerted upon any surface exposed to electromagnetic radiation. If absorbed, the pressure is the power flux density divided by the speed of light...

 of the resultant radiation slows (but does not stop) the collapse. Material comprising the cloud continues to "rain" onto the protostar
Protostar
A protostar is a large mass that forms by contraction out of the gas of a giant molecular cloud in the interstellar medium. The protostellar phase is an early stage in the process of star formation. For a one solar-mass star it lasts about 100,000 years...

. In this stage bipolar flows are produced, probably an effect of the angular momentum
Angular momentum
In physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...

 of the infalling material.

When the surrounding gas and dust envelope disperses and accretion process stops, the star is considered a pre–main sequence star (PMS star). The energy source of these objects is gravitational contraction, as opposed to hydrogen burning in main sequence stars. The PMS star follows a Hayashi track
Hayashi track
The Hayashi track is a path taken by protostars in the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram after the protostellar cloud has reached approximate hydrostatic equilibrium...

 on the Hertzsprung–Russell (H–R) diagram
Hertzsprung–Russell diagram
The Hertzsprung–Russell diagram is a scatter graph of stars showing the relationship between the stars' absolute magnitudes or luminosities versus their spectral types or classifications and effective temperatures. Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams are not pictures or maps of the locations of the stars...

. The contraction will proceed until the Hayashi limit
Hayashi limit
Hayashi limit is a constraint upon the maximum radius of a star for a given mass. When a star is fully within hydrostatic equilibrium—a condition where the inward force of gravity is matched by the outward pressure of the gas—then the star can not exceed the radius defined by the...

 is reached, and thereafter contraction will continue on a Kelvin–Helmholtz timescale with the temperature remaining stable. Stars with less than 0.5 solar mass
Solar mass
The solar mass , , is a standard unit of mass in astronomy, used to indicate the masses of other stars and galaxies...

es thereafter join the main sequence. For more massive PMS stars, at the end of the Hayashi track they will slowly collapse in near hydrostatic equilibrium, following the Henyey track.

Finally, hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 begins to fuse in the core of the star, and the rest of the enveloping material is cleared away. This ends the protostellar phase and begins the star's main sequence
Main sequence
The main sequence is a continuous and distinctive band of stars that appears on plots of stellar color versus brightness. These color-magnitude plots are known as Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams after their co-developers, Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell...

 phase on the H–R diagram.

The stages of the process are well defined in stars with masses around one solar mass
Solar mass
The solar mass , , is a standard unit of mass in astronomy, used to indicate the masses of other stars and galaxies...

 or less. In high mass stars, the length of the star formation process is comparable to the other timescales of their evolution, much shorter, and the process is not so well defined. The later evolution of stars are studied in stellar evolution
Stellar evolution
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years to trillions of years .Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single...

.

Observations


Key elements of star formation are only available by observing in wavelength
Wavelength
In physics, the wavelength of a sinusoidal wave is the spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats.It is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a...

s other than the optical. The protostellar stage of stellar existence is almost invariably hidden away deep inside dense clouds of gas and dust left over from the GMC. Often, these star-forming cocoons can be seen in silhouette
Silhouette
A silhouette is the image of a person, an object or scene consisting of the outline and a basically featureless interior, with the silhouetted object usually being black. Although the art form has been popular since the mid-18th century, the term “silhouette” was seldom used until the early decades...

 against bright emission from surrounding gas; they are then known as Bok globule
Bok globule
Bok globules are dark clouds of dense cosmic dust and gas in which star formation sometimes takes place. Bok globules are found within H II regions, and typically have a mass of about 2 to 50 solar masses contained within a region about a light year or so across...

s. Early stages of a star's life can be seen in infrared
Infrared astronomy
Infrared astronomy is the branch of astronomy and astrophysics that studies astronomical objects visible in infrared radiation. The wavelength of infrared light ranges from 0.75 to 300 micrometers...

 light, which penetrates the dust more easily than visible
Visible-light astronomy
Visible-light astronomy encompasses a wide variety of observations via telescopes that are sensitive in the range of visible light...

 light.

The structure of the molecular cloud and the effects of the protostar can be observed in near-IR extinction
Extinction (astronomy)
Extinction is a term used in astronomy to describe the absorption and scattering of electromagnetic radiation by matter between an emitting astronomical object and the observer. Interstellar extinction—also called Galactic extinction, when it occurs in the Milky Way—was first...

 maps (where the number of stars are counted per unit area and compared to a nearby zero extinction area of sky), continuum dust emission and rotational transition
Rotational transition
A rotational transition is an abrupt change in angular momentum in quantum physics. Like all other properties of a quantum particle, angular momentum is quantized, meaning it can only equal certain discrete values, which correspond to different rotational energy states. When a particle loses...

s of CO
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 and other molecules; these last two are observed in the millimeter and submillimeter
Radio astronomy
Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies. The initial detection of radio waves from an astronomical object was made in the 1930s, when Karl Jansky observed radiation coming from the Milky Way. Subsequent observations have identified a number of...

 range. The radiation from the protostar and early star has to be observed in infrared astronomy
Infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

 wavelengths, as the extinction
Extinction (astronomy)
Extinction is a term used in astronomy to describe the absorption and scattering of electromagnetic radiation by matter between an emitting astronomical object and the observer. Interstellar extinction—also called Galactic extinction, when it occurs in the Milky Way—was first...

 caused by the rest of the cloud in which the star is forming is usually too big to allow us to observe it in the visual part of the spectrum. This presents considerable difficulties as the atmosphere is almost entirely opaque from 20μm to 850μm, with narrow windows at 200μm and 450μm. Even outside this range atmospheric subtraction techniques must be used.

The formation of individual stars can only be directly observed in our Galaxy
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

, but in distant galaxies star formation has been detected through its unique spectral signature
Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry
Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry is a method that combines the features of gas-liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify different substances within a test sample. Applications of GC-MS include drug detection, fire investigation, environmental analysis, explosives investigation,...

.

Notable pathfinder objects

  • MWC 349 was first discovered in 1978, and is estimated to be only 1,000 years old.
  • VLA 1623 -- The first exemplar Class 0 protostar, a type of embedded protostar that has yet to accrete the majority of its mass. Found in 1993, is possibly younger than 10,000 years http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg13718613.200-science-youngest-star.html.
  • L1014
    L1014
    |- style="vertical-align: top;"| Distance | 652.32 Ly Lynds 1014 is a dark nebula in Cygnus constellation. It may be among the most centrally condensed small dark cloud known, perhaps indicative of the earliest stages of star formation processes...

     -- An incredibly faint embedded object representative of a new class of sources that are only now being detected with the newest telescopes. Their status is still undetermined, they could be the youngest low-mass Class 0 protostars yet seen or even very low-mass evolved objects (like a brown dwarf
    Brown dwarf
    Brown dwarfs are sub-stellar objects which are too low in mass to sustain hydrogen-1 fusion reactions in their cores, which is characteristic of stars on the main sequence. Brown dwarfs have fully convective surfaces and interiors, with no chemical differentiation by depth...

     or even an interstellar planet
    Interstellar planet
    A rogue planet is a planetary-mass object that has been ejected from its system and is no longer gravitationally bound to any star, brown dwarf or other such object, and that therefore orbits the galaxy directly...

    ). http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20041113/fob5.asp.
  • IRS 8* -- The youngest known main sequence
    Main sequence
    The main sequence is a continuous and distinctive band of stars that appears on plots of stellar color versus brightness. These color-magnitude plots are known as Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams after their co-developers, Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell...

     star, discovered in August 2006. It is estimated to be 3.5 million years old http://www.newscientistspace.com/article.ns?id=dn9738&feedId=space_rss20.

Low mass and high mass star formation


Stars of different masses are thought to form by slightly different mechanisms. The theory of low-mass star formation, which is well-supported by a plethora of observations, suggests that low-mass stars form by the gravitational collapse of rotating density enhancements within molecular clouds. As described above, the collapse of a rotating cloud of gas and dust leads to the formation of an accretion disk through which matter is channeled onto a central protostar. For stars with masses higher than about 8 solar masses, however, the mechanism of star formation is not well understood.

Massive stars emit copious quantities of radiation which pushes against infalling material. In the past, it was thought that this radiation pressure
Radiation pressure
Radiation pressure is the pressure exerted upon any surface exposed to electromagnetic radiation. If absorbed, the pressure is the power flux density divided by the speed of light...

might be substantial enough to halt accretion onto the massive protostar and prevent the formation of stars with masses more than a few tens of solar masses. Recent theoretical work has shown that the production of a jet and outflow clears a cavity through which much of the radiation from a massive protostar can escape without hindering accretion through the disk and onto the protostar. Present thinking is that massive stars may therefore be able to form by a mechanism similar to that by which low mass stars form.

There is mounting evidence that at least some massive protostars are indeed surrounded by accretion disks. Several other theories of massive star formation remain to be tested observationally. Of these, perhaps the most prominent is the theory of competitive accretion, which suggests that massive protostars are "seeded" by low-mass protostars which compete with other protostars to draw in matter from the entire parent molecular cloud, instead of simply from a small local region.

Another theory of massive star formation suggests that massive stars may form by the coalescence of two or more stars of lower mass.