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WIU undergraduate physics major (now graduate student) Jake Lambert explains concepts of star formation and infrared radiation during an outreach activity at Edison School in Macomb.
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Pictured is an infrared and radio view of a region of star formation, image generated by WIU graduate student Michael Starzyk - data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope (GLIMPSE), and the NRAO’s VLA (CORNISH).
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WIU Receives NSF Grant to Study the Formation of the Most Massive Stars in the Galaxy

October 9, 2018

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MACOMB, IL – Associate Professor Esteban D. Araya, of Western Illinois University's Department of Physics, received a $148,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support a three-year project researching the earliest phases of star formation.

The project entitled "Collaborative Research: A Multiscale Approach to Understand Outflows During High-Mass Star Formation" is a combined effort between WIU and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (which also received an NSF grant) to study the role of outflows during the formation of the most massive stars in our Galaxy.

"The spectacular lives of the most massive stars have direct relevance to our own existence, as most of the heavy chemical elements on Earth were made by these stars," said Araya. "As exemplified by the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (the detection of gravitational waves from the collision of the remnants of two massive stars), these astronomical objects are of great importance in the universe."

Their formation has been very hard to understand, in part because there are few of these stars forming in the Galaxy and they are located at very large distances from Earth.

"When you study a region where a new star is forming, you would expect to see clouds of gas falling inwards to accumulate large amounts of matter; however, surprisingly, we see material flown away from the young star,"' said Araya. "These streams of gas, known as jets and outflows, are key to understand the delicate process between accumulating mass and pushing away the natal material as new solar systems form."

This grant will support Araya and his students at the WIU Astrophysics Research Laboratory (Currens Hall 402) to investigate outflows by conducting observations and analyzing data from some of the most powerful radio telescopes, like the Very Large Array in New Mexico and ALMA in Chile.

The grant will support undergraduate and graduate students during the academic year, summer scholarships and travel for students to visit observatories and scientific conferences. In addition, the grant will support outreach activities and provide special scholarships for high-school students to participate in the "Discovering the World Through Science" summer camp of the College of Arts and Sciences.

For more information, contact Araya at

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