Texas Astronomers find Mystery Object in 'Starless Core' with Spitzer Space Telescope

4 January 2005

Austin, Texas — University of Texas at Austin astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope looked into a supposedly empty cloud of dust and discovered that it’s not empty after all.


Professor Neal Evans leads Spitzer’s “Cores to Disks” Legacy Science Team. The team is probing dozens of dusty regions of potential star formation with the infrared space telescope to gain insight into conditions that are needed for stars to form.

In this case, they detected a faint, star-like object in the least expected of places — a “starless core” called L1014, 600 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. Named for their apparent lack of stars, starless cores are dense knots of gas and dust that should eventually form individual newborn stars.

“Starless cores are fascinating to study because they tell us what conditions exist in the instants before a star forms. Understanding this environment is key to improving our theories of star formation,” Evans said.

The object in L1014 doesn’t have properties predicted by standard models of star formation, Evans said. It is fainter than would be expected for a young star.

Graduate student Chadwick Young authored the research paper on L1014, which appeared in a special supplement to The Astrophysical Journal.

“It’s really bizarre,” Young said. “There are many possibilities about what this object could be. It could be a very low-mass object in the early stages of formation, such as a brown dwarf. It could be a very normal object — a star — in a quiescent stage. Or it could be something more exotic that we don’t understand. But it doesn’t seem rare.

“We picked 50 or so of these to check out,” Young said. “L1014 was the first one we looked at.”

So, if more of these “starless cores” are found to have objects embedded in them, does this study have the potential to change ideas about star formation?

“Absolutely,” Young said.


Notes to editors: The Spitzer Space Telescope is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. For more information about Spitzer Space Telescope, visit the Spitzer homepage.