Star Formation in Dark Clouds

Program Code: 

Dr Robert Smith (

Description of Work: 


This project examines star formation in dark clouds in the plane of the galaxy.


The earliest stages of star formation which can be reasonably studied are when a dense core forms within a dusty envelope in a dark cloud. This is followed by the formation of a disk and bipolar outflows. As the star evolves, the envelope transfers all its mass to the disc and the disc in turn transfers this to the core (which will eventually become a star) and the outflows disappear. Each of these stages has characteristic signatures which can be seen in different parts of the spectrum, radio, infrared and optical. The problem is recognizing which dark clouds are likely to form stars and determining what type (i.e. mass) of star is likely to be formed. One step on the way to understanding these problems is identifying and studying more stars at this stage of their evolution.

Description of Work:

  • Initially, data from available online catalogues of infrared observations (2MASS and Spitzer GLIMPSE) will be used to first map the dust density distribution in the dark cloud regions to locate likely sites of recent star formation and then (from the catalogue colours), to identify candidate Young Stellar Objects (YSOs) within these clouds;
  • Subsequently, the YSO’s will be studied using ground-based infrared, optical and radio telescopes to identify their evolutionary status and characterize their disks and/or envelopes;
  • The initial dust density distributions will be combined with existing radio atomic and molecular line surveys for those dark clouds in which YSO’s are identified to distinguish between those with and without star formation.