The secret to life in our Universe

A new study conducted by scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) investigated the nature of a cosmic phenomenon – a particular way stars provide a counter-pressure to gravity – that slows down the formation of stars. The study authors argued that this type of deceleration increases the likelihood of the emergence of life.

The main author of this study, Dr. Roland Crocker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said his group had studied a special mechanism by which stars develop internal pressure that counteracts gravity, which slows down star formation.

"If star formation happened rapidly, all stars would be bound together in massive clusters, where the intense radiation and supernova explosions would likely sterilise all the planetary systems, preventing the emergence of life", he said. "The conditions in these massive star clusters would possibly even prevent planets from forming in the first place".

Ultraviolet and optical light from young and massive stars interacts with the gas from which these stars have recently been formed. The light also interacts with cosmic dust, which in turn scatters the infrared light in a way that it acts as a type of pressure to push against gravity.

Dr. Crocker said the that this phenomenon sets an upper limit to how quickly stars can form in a galaxy or a giant gas cloud. He believes that “such and other forms of feedback help keep the Universe alive and vibrant”.

"We are investigating other ways stars might feed back into their environment to slow down the overall rate of star formation", he said.

Jessica Zeitz