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The formation of a massive protostar through the disk accretion of gas

Abstract

The formation of low-mass stars like our Sun can be explained by the gravitational collapse of a molecular cloud fragment into a protostellar core and the subsequent accretion of gas and dust from the surrounding interstellar medium1,2,3. Theoretical considerations suggest that the radiation pressure from the protostar on the in-falling material may prevent the formation of stars above ten solar masses through this mechanism4, although some calculations have claimed that stars up to 40 solar masses can in principle be formed via accretion through a disk5,6,7. Given this uncertainty and the fact that most massive stars are born in dense clusters, it was suggested that high-mass stars are the result of the runaway merging of intermediate-mass stars8. Here we report observations that clearly show a massive star being born from a large rotating accretion disk. The protostar has already assembled about 20 solar masses, and the accretion process is still going on. The gas reservoir of the circumstellar disk contains at least 100 solar masses of additional gas, providing sufficient fuel for substantial further growth of the forming star.

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Figure 1: Silhouette of the accretion disk seen against the light from the H ii region.
Figure 2: Kinematics of the molecular gas in the disk region.
Figure 3: Position–velocity diagram showing the rotation of the disk.
Figure 4: Multi-wavelength sequence of the hourglass-shaped reflection nebula.
Figure 5: Optical spectrum of the bipolar nebula.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the directors of ESO and IRAM for the allocation of discretionary time to perform the adaptive optics image and the molecular line observations, respectively. We also thank the Paranal Science Operations team for performing the infrared observations in service mode. This work was supported by the Nordrhein-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, funded by the Federal State Nordrhein-Westfalen and the Federal Republic of Germany.

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Correspondence to Rolf Chini.

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Chini, R., Hoffmeister, V., Kimeswenger, S. et al. The formation of a massive protostar through the disk accretion of gas. Nature 429, 155–157 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02507

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