Astronomers have found telltale signs of 11 low-mass stars. They are forming ONLY three light-years away from the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole.

This discovery is really surprising because at this proximity conditions are harsh. Thus, star formation there is really hard to imagine.

At such a distance, the supermassive black hole, Sgr A*, drives tidal forces, so energetic, that could rip apart clouds of gas and dust before they can form stars.

“This discovery provides evidence that star formation is taking place within clouds surprisingly close to Sgr A*, perhaps due to events that compress the host cloud, creating condensations with sufficient self-gravity to resist tidal disruption by Sgr A*,”  a paragraph written in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

However, new observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) suggest otherwise.

“Despite all odds, we see the best evidence yet that low-mass stars are forming startlingly close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way,” said Farhad Yusef-Zadeh, an astronomer at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and lead author of a study.

“This is a genuinely surprising result and one that demonstrates just how robust star formation can be, even in the most unlikely of places,” he added.

The study suggests that these infant stars are about 6,000 years old.

The Discovery

Astronomers spotted these protostars by seeing the classic “double lobes” of material that bracket each of them. Molecules, like carbon monoxide (CO), in these lobes glow brightly in the millimeter-wavelength light.

We cannot see this region with optical telescopes because a large amount of interstellar dust hides it. However, radio waves, including the millimeter and submillimeter light that ALMA sees, can penetrate this dust. Hence, they give astronomers a clearer picture of the dynamics and content of this hostile environment.

Our galactic center lies roughly 26,000 light years away from us in the constellation Sagittarius.

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Thumbnail imageEleven infant stars near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Credit: ALMA ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Yusef-Zadeh et al.; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NS)