Astronomers used two of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world to make a very detailed and sensitive image of a large segment of the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers were able to detect previously unseen tracers indicating massive star formation by using the radio telescopes. The telescopes used in the study included the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) and the 100-meter Effelsberg Telescope in Germany.
Astronomers say that stars with a mass about ten times that of the Sun are important components of the galaxy and have a significant impact on their surroundings. Understanding how such massive stars are formed has been a mystery for astronomers. Researchers have been addressing that mystery by studying the galaxy using a variety of wavelengths, including radio and infrared.
The new survey is called GLOSTAR and is designed to take advantage of the improved capabilities of the VLA after an upgrade in 2012, allowing the VLA to produce data that was impossible previously. The project gave astronomers new data on the lifecycle processes of massive stars and the material between the stars. It detected tracers of early stages of massive star formation, including compact regions of hydrogen gas ionized by powerful radiation from young stars and radio emissions from methanol molecules.
Methanol molecules can pinpoint the location of very young stars still deeply shrouded in clouds of gas and dust that they are forming inside. GLOSTAR also discovered many remnants of supernova explosions, which result from the deaths of massive stars. Previous studies have found fewer than one-third of the expected number of supernova remnants in the Milky Way.
However, GLOSTAR more than doubled the number found using the file data alone. Astronomers expect to find even more supernova remnants when they go through the Effelsberg data.