European scientists say an artificial intelligence system analysing data from the Gaia space telescope has identified more than 2000 large protostars – young stars that are still forming.
Previously only 100 have been catalogued, they say, and investigating them has generated much of the knowledge underpinning star formation studies.
“The catalogue of new Herbig Ae/Be stars that we present here increases the number of known objects of the class by an order of magnitude,” they write in a paper in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Miguel Vioque, from the University of Leeds, UK, and colleagues from Spain, Switzerland and Denmark focussed specifically on Herbig Ae/Be stars, which have a mass at least twice that of the Sun.
They took Gaia’s data, cleaned it and reduced it to an initial subset of 4.1 million contenders. From this, a machine learning system – mainly artificial neural networks – generated a list of 2226 stars with around an 85% chance of being a Herbig Ae/Be protostar.
The humans then stepped in again, validating the findings of the AI tool by investigating 145 of the identified stars at ground observatories in Spain and Chile, where they were able to measure the light, recorded as spectra, coming from the stars.
“We are combining new technologies in the way researchers survey and map the galaxy with ways of interrogating the mountain of data produced by the telescope – and it is revolutionising our understanding of the galaxy,” says Vioque. “This approach is opening an exciting, new chapter in astronomy.”
One of the target stars is known as Gaia DR2 428909457258627200. Some 8500 light-years away, it has a mass 2.3 times that of the Sun and twice its radius.
Its surface temperature is 9400 degrees Celsius (compared with the Sun at about 5500) and It has existed for around six million years, which in astronomical terms makes it a young star that is still forming.
The research was part of the European Union’s STARRY (STARs that ‘R’ Young) project.
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