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Armagh Observatory to lead European Collaboration

Armagh Observatory, 23rd August 2001.

Armagh astronomers have joined colleagues in Armenia, France and Russia in a new effort to understand the stars. European funds will be used to provide new equipment and to support research at the major observatories of Armagh, Byurakan, Marseille and the Special Astrophysical Observatory in Russia. The plan is to investigate the environments of young stars by using a sophisticated observing method.

Stars are born in almost complete privacy, deep inside clouds of gas and dust that collapse under their own gravitational force. Not only the actual moment of star birth remains a mystery but the original conception also. The formation of a star is often first revealed to us by a spectacular display of high-speed jets and bullet-like clumps, which rocket into the environment, heating and destroying the enveloping material.

"We will be investigating the properties of these exotic environments, where the simplest molecules are formed and destroyed and where planets and stars are created", states astronomer Dr Michael Smith of Armagh Observatory, who is coordinating the project. "And we can begin to understand how nature overcomes the problems of supersonic motion. We want to understand our origins: how does a star like our Sun begin its life?"

SAO Telescope The observations will be made at the Special Astrophysical Observatory in Russia, using what was until recently the largest telescope in the world. Further observations and analysis of the data will be made in Armenia, while Marseille will provide the software needed to turn the massive data sets into understandable images and maps.

"Even though we can only see the stars and gas projected on to the sky, like on to a screen, we can construct three dimensional views by using detailed information about the speed of the gas", comments Tigran Khanzadyan, a research student from Armenia now studying in Armagh.

The Armagh group will use a supercomputer to simulate the phenomena observed and will also provide a backup programme of infrared observations.

The award has been made by INTAS, an International Association for the promotion of co-operation between scientists from former Soviet states, the European Community and other European states. "The large mirrors of the telescopes collect and focus the rays of light," added Dr Smith. "A large fraction of the award will pay for lenses which then filter the light, `prisms' called grisms, which bend light into a spectrum of colours, and a polarimeter to measure the effects of the scattering of light by dust in the region of star formation."

During observations of a distant globule of gas called CB 34 in the constellation of Gemini, the Armagh group recently discovered signs of extremely young bodies, called `protostars', which are very active, throwing dense, high-velocity clouds of gas, like bullets, out into their surroundings. "This globule contains two long chains of bullets next to each other, all lined up" states Dr. Smith, "it is quite mind-blowing. The new INTAS collaboration will set us on the trail of many more such interesting regions".

Team leaders in the INTAS project:

Michael Smith; Armagh Observatory, N. Ireland
Tigran Magakian; Byurakan Observatory, Armenia
Jacques Boulesteix; Observatoire de Marseille, France
Serguei Dodonov; SAO, Russia

Collaborators on the CB 34 project:

Tigran Khanzadyan; Armagh Observatory, N. Ireland
Michael Smith; Armagh Observatory, N. Ireland
Roland Gredel; Centro Astronomico Hispano-Aleman, Spain
Thomas Stanke; Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Germany
Chris J. Davis; Joint Astronomy Centre, Hawaii, U.S.A.

Manuscripts: A paper has been submitted to the main european journal, Astronomy & Astrophysics and is available upon request to the authors.

For further information about Armagh Observatory, visit the Observatory web pages (http://star.arm.ac.uk) or
contact Michael Smith (phone: UK+28-3752-2928, Fax: UK+28-3752-7174
email: mds@star.arm.ac.uk)

For further information about star formation and the INTAS project, contact Michael Smith (phone: UK+28-37522928, Fax: UK+28-37527174
email: mds@star.arm.ac.uk)

Last Revised: 2001 August 24th
WWW contact: webmaster@star.arm.ac.uk
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