Astrophysicists have developed the first 3D model of a gas cloud that is forming into a star. The model is huge – it could take three months to launch.
The Starforge model (which means “star formation in a gaseous medium”) allows users to fly through a colorful cloud of gas as it gathers into a star. The researchers hope that visual simulation will help them explore the many unsolved mysteries of star formation. For example, they want to know why this process is so slow and ineffective? What determines the mass of a star? And why do stars tend to cluster together?
The computing system is capable of simulating gas clouds 100 times more massive than was previously possible. This will allow scientists to model the formation, evolution and dynamics of stars, taking into account things like jets, radiation, wind, and even supernovae – explosions of nearby stars.
Stars can take tens of millions of years to form – they grow from swirling clouds of turbulent dust and gas into softly glowing protostars, and then materialize into giant fusion-powered plasma balls like the Sun. While studying the night sky gives astrophysicists a glimpse of a star’s evolution, they need to use accurate modeling to see and study the entire process in more detail.
“When we observe the formation of stars in any region, we only see places of star formation frozen in time,” said study co-author Michael Grudich in a statement. “Stars also form in dust clouds, so they’re mostly hidden.”
The model is very large, and it can take three months to run one simulation on one of the world’s largest supercomputers, located at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. It is the sheer size and computational complexity that makes the predictions of the new model much more accurate, the researchers said.