Infrared excess explained around newly forming stars after puzzling astronomers since the 1980’s. NASA launched the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) in 1983 to survey the process by which stars are formed from disks of spinning gas and dust. While the mission was successful and reams of data was gathered, a large question remained: the stars were emitting much more infrared light than expected, where was it coming from?
It was understood that the rings of gas and dust were heated by starlight from the star at the center, but there was more infrared coming from the formation than the young star could be responsible for. The answer came when old information was looked it in a new way. Revising the old models of matter spinning in a flat disk allowed for the inclusion of magnetic fields between layers of dust, the outer layer being thinner and harder to detect than the thicker main ring. This additional layer of dust absorbed and reradiated the infrared light from the star, creating the illusion that there was more infrared light than possible.
The magnetic fields are similar to those that surround the Earth and our sun. Solar flares are caused by shifts in the suns magnetic fields that allow a weak to spot to jet a loop of super heated plasma before the fields realign and trap the matter once more. the field around the Earth protects us from these flares and the effects of solar winds. In the case of newly forming stars, the shifts in the fields are created when the star first forms and the disk collapses into its core, taking any fields with it. The field then passes through the disk of remaining stellar matter and the loops trap the dust and gas which blocks light leaving the new star. These trapped pockets are heated by the light and give of infrared radiation in the previously puzzling amounts. Having the infrared excess explained around newly forming stars has led to a statement from Neal Turner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab saying that the traditional model of a disk was incorrect, but so was the proposed halo shape.
The new understanding is that the stars are surrounded by a disk atmosphere supported by magnetic fields that are formed from the energy caused by the rotation of the mass. As the star forms its gravity overpowers the inertia of the debris and pulls it into the star where it is incorporated. As this happens the disk eventually is consumed and collapses, resulting in the unusual infrared readings. After grappling with this mystery for over 20 years, NASA scientists are no doubt beaming after seeing infrared excess explained around newly forming stars. But researchers don’t plan to stop refining their answers just yet, having harnessed NASA’s SOFIA telescope, James Webb Telescope and Chile’s ALMA telescope array to acquire more information. As more data comes in regarding the formation of stars, more answers to the mysteries of the universe are sure to reveal themselves in a new light.