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New International Collaboration to be led by Armagh Astronomers

Armagh Observatory is to lead a new effort to understand the formation of stars through a collaboration of institutes spread throughout Europe. The project will receive European funding directed towards new cameras, supporting observations and theory. In addition to the Observatory, the project involves astronomers stationed in Germany, Russia, Armenia and Spain: the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, the Special Astrophysical Observatory in Russia, Byurakan Observatory in Armenia and Calar Alto Observatory in Spain.

The project concerns objects called protostars -- the prototypes for stars. Before they are born, these protostars are developing in compact egg-like structures. As the protostars are born, the eggshells are broken and ejected violently, producing gigantic protostellar outflows. What remains are rather like fried eggs: each consists of a thick warm core surrounded by a flattened disk.

The plan is to investigate the environments of young stars by using sophisticated observing methods. The origin of stars remained an absolute mystery for centuries. This was because they form in opaque regions completely obscuring events inside. These regions, however, turn out to be opaque only to our optical telescopes even when much more sensitive than our eyes. Infrared telescopes working with state-of-the-art digital cameras record light that penetrates out from the protostar. Optical telescopes also detect the outflow once it has escaped the obscuring region. All this information is now aiding the team of astronomers to piece together the early life history of stars.

"We will be investigating what the outflows carry away with them and, in doing so, hope to answer why they occur", states astronomer Dr. Michael Smith of Armagh Observatory, who is co-ordinating the project. "We also want to know how they re-shape their environment and how they affect the efficiency with which stars are born. Our Sun has long since escaped its original egg but it must have had such a dramatic beginning."

"Even though we can only see the stars and gas projected on to the sky, like on to a flat screen, we can reconstruct three dimensional views by using detailed information about the speed of the gas", said Tigran Khanzadyan, a former Armagh student now in Heidelberg.

The project was one of 126 selected from 1290 eligible proposals submitted to INTAS, an independent International Association formed by the European Community, European Union's Member States and like minded countries. The agency acts to preserve and promote the valuable scientific potential of Russia and other NIS countries through East- West Scientific co-operation.

Notes for Editors:

Major collaborators in the INTAS project:

Michael Smith: Armagh Observatory, N. Ireland
Roland Gredel: Calar Alto Observatory, Spain
Tigran Khanzadyan: Max Planck Institute, Heidelberg, Germany
Tigran Magakian: Byurakan Observatory, Armenia
Serguei Dodonov: SAO, Russia

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT ARMAGH OBSERVATORY, VISIT THE OBSERVATORY WEB PAGES: http://star.arm.ac.uk or contact Michael Smith Tel.: +44 (0)28-3752-2928; Fax: +44 (0)28-3752-7174; email: mdsatarm.ac.uk.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT STAR FORMATION AND THE INTAS PROJECT, CONTACT: Michael Smith Tel.: +44 (0)28-3752-2928; Fax: +44 (0)28-3752-7174; email: mdsatarm.ac.uk

Last Revised: 2004 January 12th
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