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A hot compact dust disk around a massive young stellar object



Circumstellar disks are an essential ingredient of the formation1 of low-mass stars. It is unclear, however, whether the accretion-disk paradigm can also account for the formation of stars more massive than about 10 solar masses2, in which strong radiation pressure might halt mass infall3,4. Massive stars may form by stellar merging5, although more recent theoretical investigations suggest that the radiative-pressure limit may be overcome by considering more complex, non-spherical infall geometries6,7. Clear observational evidence, such as the detection of compact dusty disks8 around massive young stellar objects, is needed to identify unambiguously the formation mode of the most massive stars. Here we report near-infrared interferometric observations that spatially resolve the astronomical-unit-scale distribution of hot material around a high-mass (20 solar masses) young stellar object. The image shows an elongated structure with a size of 13 × 19 astronomical units, consistent with a disk seen at an inclination angle of 45°. Using geometric and detailed physical models, we found a radial temperature gradient in the disk, with a dust-free region less than 9.5 astronomical units from the star, qualitatively and quantitatively similar to the disks observed in low-mass star formation. Perpendicular to the disk plane we observed a molecular outflow and two bow shocks, indicating that a bipolar outflow emanates from the inner regions of the system.

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Figure 1: Zoom in on IRAS 13481-6124, covering structures over more than five orders of magnitude.
Figure 2: Elongation of the compact emission component, as determined with a Gaussian and a temperature-gradient disk model.


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This work was done in part under contract with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), funded by NASA through the Sagan Fellowship Program (S.K. is a Sagan Fellow). We thank the ESO Paranal staff for support and their efforts in improving the VLTI. This paper is based on observations made with ESO telescopes at the La Silla Paranal Observatory and archival data obtained with the Spitzer Space Telescope, operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, under a contract with NASA. We also used data acquired with APEX, a collaboration between the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, ESO, and the Onsala Space Observatory.

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Authors and Affiliations



S.K. worked on the AMBER data reduction and data interpretation, model fitting and image reconstruction, made some of the observations and wrote the telescope proposals and the initial paper manuscript. K.-H.H. worked on the image reconstruction. D.S. worked on the speckle data reduction. G.W. made some of the observations. F.W. worked on the APEX data reduction and data interpretation. K.M.M. and P.S. were co-authors on the telescope proposal. A.M., K.P., R.P., S.R.-D. and L.T. represent the AMBER instrument consortium, which provided some observation time. All authors commented on the paper.

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Correspondence to Stefan Kraus.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Information, Notes and Data S1-S5, Supplementary Tables S1-S4, Supplementary Figures S1-S15 with legends and References. (PDF 5203 kb)

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Kraus, S., Hofmann, KH., Menten, K. et al. A hot compact dust disk around a massive young stellar object. Nature 466, 339–342 (2010).

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