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The Small Magellanic Cloud Reveals a Secret

An Image of the Small Magellanic Cloud and the baby star Y246. Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Tokuda et al. ESA/Herschel.

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), scientists studied the Small Magellanic Cloud and discovered "baby stars hiding in plain sight.

In an environment similar to the early universe, Osaka Metropolitan University researchers discovered “baby stars” in the Small Magellanic Cloud. An outflow of molecular material near one of the baby stars shows properties similar to those seen in the Milky Way, providing a new perspective on star formation. Star formation is significantly influenced by heavy elements in interstellar matter. Because nucleosynthesis could not produce heavy elements in stars in the early universe, the abundance of heavy elements was lower than it is today. There is a lack of understanding of how star formation differs from that in present-day environments.

A team led by Professor Toshikazu Onishi, Osaka Metropolitan University, and Project Assistant Professor Kazuki Tokuda, Kyushu University/NAOJ, observed young stellar objects with high masses in the Small Magellanic Cloud using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

Typical of galaxies 10 billion years ago, the Small Magellanic Cloud consists of a low abundance of heavier elements than helium. Because the target is relatively close to the Earth, it offers detailed observational views. Researchers measured the velocity of both directions of a molecular flow out of the “baby star” Y246 in their study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The molecular outflow seems to accelerate the growth of baby stars in the present universe by suppressing rotational motion during gravitational contraction. As a result of the discovery of the same process in the Small Magellanic Cloud, scientists believe this process has been occurring in the universe for at least 10 billion years. As a result of this discovery, the study of stars and planets will also gain new perspectives.

The Smal Magallenic Cloud is, in fact, a small dwarf galaxy near the Milky Way containing contains several hundred million stars and has a diameter of about 5.78 kiloparsecs (18,900 light-years). An estimated 7 billion solar masses make up its total mass. As one of the closest intergalactic neighbors of the Milky Way, the SMC lies at a distance of about 200,000 light-years. It covers about 14 square degrees (70 times the Moon’s area) and has an apparent diameter of about 4.2° (8 times the Moon’s). A clear moonless night and away from city lights are recommended for seeing this deep-sky object due to its low surface brightness. In addition to being a member of the Local Group, the SMC forms a pair with the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).

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