Molecular clouds are collections of gas and dust in space. The clouds remain in their state of peaceful equilibrium, when left alone. Shockwaves can propagate through the gas and dust to create pockets of dense material, when triggered by some external agent. The dense gas and dust collapses and begins to form new stars, at a certain limit.
Astronomical observations do not have high enough spatial resolution to observe these processes. Numerical simulations cannot handle the complexity of the interaction between clouds and supernova remnants. The triggering and formation of new stars in this way remains mostly shrouded in mystery.
Scientists modeled the interaction between supernova remnants and molecular clouds using a high-power laser and a foam ball. The foam ball represents a dense area within a molecular cloud. The high-power laser creates a blast wave that propagates through a surrounding chamber of gas and into the ball. Scientists observed the compression using X-ray images.
The mechanisms for triggering star formation are interesting on a number of scales. They can impact the star formation rate and evolution of a galaxy. It helps in explaining the formation of the most massive stars. Scientists will need to account for the stretched mass to truly measure the compressed material and the shockwave’s impact on star formation. They plan to explore the influence of radiation, magnetic field and turbulence.