A stellar ‘caterpillar’ in the midst of a metamorphosis has been spotted by astronomers.
The light-year-long cosmic squiggle is currently collecting material from an envelope of gas surrounding it.
Astronomers are now keen to see what will emerge from the protostar, which is in a very early evolutionary stage.
This light-year-long knot of interstellar gas and dust resembles a caterpillar on its way to a feast. Harsh winds from extremely bright stars are blasting ultraviolet radiation at this 'wanna-be' star and sculpting the gas and dust into its long shape.
A previous study has called the object, which lies 4,500 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, a ‘tadpole in an interstellar pond.’
Harsh winds from extremely bright stars are blasting ultraviolet radiation at this 'wanna-be' star, named IRAS 20324+4057, and sculpting the gas and dust into its long shape.
The culprits are 65 of the hottest, brightest known stars, classified as O-type stars, located 15 light-years away from the knot, towards the right edge of the image.
Astronomers believe that the envelope of gas surrounding the protostar is being eroded by the radiation from Cygnus OB2.
Protostars in this region should eventually become young stars with final masses about one to ten times that of our sun.
If the eroding radiation from the nearby bright stars destroys the gas envelope before the protostars finish collecting mass, their final masses could be cut.
According to spectroscopic observations of the central star within IRAS 20324+4057, the protostar is still collecting material quite heavily from its outer envelope, hoping to bulk up in mass.
What will emerge from this metamorphosis remains to be seen. ‘Only time will tell if the formed star will be a “heavyweight” or a “lightweight” with respect to its mass,’ said the Hubble team.