Video Shows What Happens When a Star Is Born, According to Scientists

Astrophysicists have shared what they claim is the most realistic 3D simulation of star creation ever made.

The computer simulation, based on modeling technology called STARFORGE (Star Formation in Gaseous Environments), shows how a huge gas cloud floating in space eventually births stars over time.

The video, seen below, shows how stars blink into life over millions of years as the huge cloud of gas collapses in on itself.

The cloud being simulated is so large it is measured in parsecs, labeled pc. Scientists use this unit to measure the unimaginably huge distances outside of our solar system. One parsec is equal to around 19.2 trillion miles. It would take more than three years to travel this distance at the speed of light.

Simulations such as this could help scientists answer some of the most fundamental questions about why stars are the way they are and how they form in the first place.

The problem is that it is extremely difficult to model star formation, partly because these clouds of gas are so large, and partly because so many factors—including gravity, fluid dynamics, magnetic fields, chemistry, radiation, and feedback—have to be modeled.

Other models have gotten around this by only simulating parts of these clouds at a time. The new STARFORGE footage shows the "first high-resolution model to simulate an entire gas cloud" and is "the most realistic" to date, according to a statement from Northwestern University in Illinois.

Claude-André Faucher-Giguère, a professor at the department of physics and astronomy at Northwestern and senior author of the STARFORGE study, said in a statement: "How stars form is very much a central question in astrophysics.

"It's been a very challenging question to explore because of the range of physical processes involved. This new simulation will help us directly address fundamental questions we could not definitively answer before."

The simulations are so complex that it can take three months to run a single one using one of the largest supercomputers in the world, operated by the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

Mike Grudić, a theoretical astrophysicist at Northwestern, said: "People have been simulating star formation for a couple decades now, but STARFORGE is a quantum leap in technology.

"Other models have only been able to simulate a tiny patch of the cloud where stars form—not the entire cloud in high resolution. Without seeing the big picture, we miss a lot of factors that might influence the star's outcome."

Astrophysicists already think that stars form when huge clouds of gas in space begin to collapse in on themselves because some parts of them are more dense than others.

Over time this causes an increase in pressure and temperature, eventually reaching the extreme conditions necessary for atoms to fuse together. This is called nuclear fusion, and it is what gives stars their power and light.

STARFORGE could help scientists more accurately model this process, and Grudić added it could also provide insight into how galaxies are formed.

"Understanding where we come from and how we're situated in the universe ultimately hinges on understanding the origins of stars," he said.

A stock image shows a CGI image of the star Betelgeuse against a backdrop of other stars. Accurate computer models of star formation are tricky to generate. Dzika_mrowka/Getty