The W3 IRS5 star forming region


Everything, it seems, has to come from somewhere (unless you ask a cosmologist where the entire universe came from). Before there are stars, there are big clouds of gas and dust which Astronomers, in a slightly less poetic mood, christened Molecular Clouds. These are interesting because they represent the very earliest stages of star formation, even before matter has started to collapse in on itself.

When this runaway collapse gets underway, these images give a view of what it looks like. Hot, dense clumps form at the core of the cloud, often distributed along collapsed filaments like little beads on a string. This cloud, named by an even less poetic Astronomer as W3 IRS5, shows three of these hot, forming stars, still deeply embedded in the cloud which formed them. In order to take these pictures, the telescope was operated in the mid-infrared region of the spectrum, which is sensitive to heat (similar thermal imaging technology is also used to image heat from aircraft engines). The false rainbow colours highlight the fainter third clump as well as the two dominant clumps (both believed to be massive young stars).

This research was published as
  • ``Subarcsecond mid-infrared and radio observations of the W3~IRS5 protocluster''
  • van der Tak F.F.S., Tuthill P.G., and Danchi W.C.
    2005, Astronomy and Astrophysics.

    Photo Credit: Sydney University Physics Department/W.M. Keck Observatory

    The Research Team:
    Floris van der Tak works at the Max-Planck-Institut for Radioastronomie
    Peter Tuthill is a reasearcher in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, Australia.
    William Danchi is at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    This research was supported by grants from the Australian Research Council and the US National Science Foundation Stellar Astronomy and Astrophysics Program.

    For more information, contact:
    Dr Peter Tuthill
    Astronomy Department
    School of Physics, University of Sydney
    N.S.W. 2006, AUSTRALIA
    email: p.tuthill -at-