Astronomers discover core of young stars hidden within the Milky Way

Contributed by
Nov 1, 2015, 6:52 PM EST (Updated)

Like a newly discovered nest of brilliant baby birds, scientists announced their findings this week on a core of hot young stars found buried deep in our Milky Way galaxy.  A team of astronomers using the VISTA telescope in Chile has unveiled a band of previously unknown stars hidden down inside clouds of interstellar dust in a barren, bulging area of the galaxy once thought to be devoid of precious star-making material.  In a paper published Wednesday in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, researchers declared this unexpected discovery of a disk containing dozens of newborn stars right in the center of our own heavenly neighborhood. 

Red dots in the artist's rendering below denote these baby stars, with the yellow star representing our sun.

The researchers found this primordial disk by studying variable stars called Cepheids and using them as distance markers for other celestial objects.  These special stars periodically brighten and dim, allowing astronomers to deduce their distance based on the length of their cycles.  Studying years of surveys using data compiled by the European Southern Observatory's infrared-peering VISTA telescope, scientists were able to detect that 35 of these 655 Cepheid stars were categorized as classical Cepheids, a subcategory of forming young stars.

"All of the 35 classical Cepheids discovered are less than 100 million years old. The youngest Cepheid may even be only around 25 million years old, although we cannot exclude the possible presence of even younger and brighter Cepheids," said team member Dante Minniti of the Universidad Andres Bello.

(Via The Washington Post)