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A disk of dust and molecular gas around a high-mass protostar


The processes leading to the birth of low-mass stars such as our Sun have been well studied1, but the formation of high-mass (over eight times the Sun's mass, M) stars remains poorly understood2. Recent studies suggest that high-mass stars may form through accretion of material from a circumstellar disk3, in essentially the same way as low-mass stars form, rather than through the merging of several low-mass stars4. There is as yet, however, no conclusive evidence5,6. Here we report the presence of a flattened disk-like structure around a massive 15M protostar in the Cepheus A region, based on observations of continuum emission from the dust and line emission from the molecular gas. The disk has a radius of about 330 astronomical units (au) and a mass of 1 to 8 M. It is oriented perpendicular to, and spatially coincident with, the central embedded powerful bipolar radio jet, just as is the case with low-mass stars, from which we conclude that high-mass stars can form through accretion.

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Figure 1: Emission from the Cepheus A HW2 protostar.
Figure 2: Position-velocity map of CH 3 CN emission along the major axis of the elongated structure shown in Fig. 1.


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S.C. acknowledges support from DEGAPA/UNAM and CONACyT grants and from the Submillimeter Array project. G.A., J.F.G. and J.M.T. are supported by a grant (including FEDER funds) of the Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Spain. G.A. acknowledges support from Junta de Andalucía. The Submillimeter Array is a joint project between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and is funded by the Smithsonian Institution and the Academic Sinica. We are grateful to the people of Hawi'ian ancestry on whose sacred mountain (Mauna Kea) we are privileged to be guests.

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Correspondence to Nimesh A. Patel.

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Patel, N., Curiel, S., Sridharan, T. et al. A disk of dust and molecular gas around a high-mass protostar. Nature 437, 109–111 (2005).

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