colleagues indicated that the first stars
were whoppers — between 30 and 300
times as heavy as the sun — and that each
formed in solitary confinement within
separate clouds of gas (SN: 6/8/02, p.
362). The gas showed no sign of fragmenting into several stars; instead, it
appeared that the condensing object
would keep growing to become one
behemoth. And because massive stars
die out in just a few million years, none
of these first stars could still exist in the
Although the researchers could follow
the steps toward star formation during
the first 100 million years or so of cosmic
history, they could not track the additional 100,000 years it takes for an infant
star to grow to its final size. The team
had to stop because supercomputers
couldn’t — and still can’t — precisely track
the rapid changes in density a cloud core
undergoes as it becomes a star.
Using a mathematical trick, however,
other teams have now gone slightly
further, simulating about 1,000 years
more of the star-formation process.
Rather than attempting to track the
rapid changes in the dense cloud core,
these teams in effect ignore the core,
treating it as a sink or black hole, with
material falling onto the central region
simply disappearing from sight.