Gamma rays from young stars could explain mysterious sky vents

Recent advances in astronomy have shed light on the mysterious world of Tauri stars, young low-mass stars previously thought to emit only moderate levels of radiation. A collaboration between Argentinian and Spanish scientists has led to the groundbreaking discovery that these newborn stars can emit powerful gamma rays. The discovery, detailed in the Royal Astronomical Society’s monthly correspondence, was made possible by the amazing sensitivity of the Fermi satellite, which has been busy observing the universe with gamma rays since its launch in 2008.

Among the mysterious cosmic phenomena not easily observable from Earth is the emission of powerful gamma rays. About 30% of these emissions detected by the Fermi satellite in the night sky have remained unexplained and a mystery to scientists. To address this challenge, Ph.D. student Agostina Filocomo and her team decided to investigate some of these unexplained sources of gamma rays. Her focus shifted to her NGC 2071, a star-forming region in the northern part of the Orion B molecular cloud. Even more intriguing to the researchers was the connection between these mysterious gamma-ray bursts and T Taurus. These newborn stars are notable for their central stars surrounded by disks of gas and dust. This is a possible site for planet formation. The team found that the unidentified gamma-ray source originated from the same region as the young star-forming region NGC 2071, home to at least 58 newborn T Tauri stars. No other object in this vicinity is likely to cause gamma-ray emissions.

A plausible explanation emerged. T Taurus may be responsible for sporadic gamma-ray emissions during violent flares called ‘megaflares’. Driven by the magnetic energy in the star’s atmosphere, these megaflares can extend many times the star’s radius and last for hours. This phenomenon is far more severe than the solar flares we see today and could have devastating consequences if it occurred on the Sun and could affect life on Earth. These results provide insight into the origins of some unknown gamma-ray sources and provide insight into the early conditions that led to the formation of our solar system. PhD student Agostina Filocomo points out that the evidence represents a major advance in understanding a long-standing astronomical mystery. Moreover, elucidating the complex processes involved in the early stages of star formation provides insight into the evolution of planet-forming environments. This newfound knowledge has the potential to shed light not only on the birth of the sun, but also on the formation and development of our home planet.