Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

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


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.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

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.


  1. Larson, R. The emitted spectrum of a protostar. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 145, 297–308 (1969)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Shu, F., Adams, F. & Lizano, S. Star formation in molecular clouds—Observation and theory. Annu. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 25, 23–81 (1987)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Larson, R. in Galactic Star Formation Across the Stellar Mass Spectrum (eds De Buizer, J. M. & van der Bliek, N. S.) ASP Conf. Ser. Vol. 287, 65–80 (Astronomical Society of the Pacific, San Francisco, 2003)

    Google Scholar 

  4. Wolfire, M. & Cassinelli, J. Conditions for the formation of massive stars. Astrophys. J. 319, 850–867 (1987)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Nakano, T., Hasegawa, T. & Norman, C. The mass of the star formed in a cloud core: Theory and its application to the Orion A cloud. Astrophys. J. 450, 183–195 (1995)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Jijina, J. & Adams, F. Infall collapse solutions in the inner limit: Radiation pressure and its effects on star formation. Astrophys. J. 462, 874–887 (1996)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Yorke, H. & Sonnhalter, C. The formation of massive stars. Astrophys. J. 569, 846–862 (2002)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bonnell, I., Bate, M. & Zinnecker, H. On the formation of massive stars. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 298, 93–102 (1998)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Chini, R. & Wargau, W. Young stellar objects and abnormal extinction within M 17. Astron. Astrophys. 329, 161–168 (1998)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Hanson, M. & Conti, P. The young massive stellar objects of M 17. Astrophys. J. 489, 698–718 (1997)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Greenhill, L., Gwinn, C., Schwartz, C., Moran, J. & Diamond, P. Coexisting conical bipolar and equatorial outflows from a high-mass protostar. Nature 396, 650–653 (1998)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Marti, J., Rodriguez, L. & Reipurth, B. HH 80–81: A highly collimated Herbig-Haro complex powered by a massive young star. Astrophys. J. 416, 208–217 (1993)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Hofner, P., Wiesemeyer, H. & Henning, T. A high-velocity molecular outflow from the G9.62 + 0.19 star-forming region. Astrophys. J. 549, 425–432 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gehrz, R. et al. Anatomy of a region of star formation—Infrared images of S106 /AFGL 2584. Astrophys. J. 254, 550–561 (1982)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Shepherd, D., Claussen, M. & Kurtz, S. Evidence for a solar system-size accretion disk around the massive protostar G192.16–3.82. Science 292, 1513–1518 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Sandell, G., Wright, M. & Forster, J. NGC 7538S—a high-mass protostar with a massive rotating disk. Astrophys. J. 590, L45–L48 (2003)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Muzerolle, J., Calvet, N. & Hartmann, L. Emission-line diagnostics of T Tauri magnetospheric accretion. II. Improved model tests and insights into accretion physics. Astrophys. J. 550, 944–961 (2001)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Muzerolle, J., Hartmann, L. & Calvet, N. Emission-line diagnostics of T Tauri magnetospheric accretion. I. Line profile observations. Astron. J. 116, 455–468 (1998)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Hamann, F. & Persson, S. Emission-line studies of young stars. II. The Herbig Ae/Be stars. Astrophys. J. Suppl. 82, 285–309 (1992)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Hartigan, P., Edwards, S. & Ghandour, L. Disk accretion and mass loss from young stars. Astrophys. J. 452, 736–768 (1995)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Calvet, N. Properties of the winds of T Tauri stars. IAU Symp. 182, 417–432 (1997)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Hartmann, L., Hewett, R. & Calvet, N. Magnetospheric accretion models for T Tauri stars. I. Balmer line profiles without rotation. Astrophys. J. 426, 669–687 (1994)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Siebenmorgen, R. & Krügel, E. The protostellar system HH108MMS. Astron. Astrophys. 364, 625–632 (2000)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rolf Chini.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing