Frontiers of Science: A Star Is Born


A Star Is Born

In a revelation given to Moses the Lord says that there is no end to His works, and that “as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come. …” (Moses 1:38.) So it is that as astronomers press forward in their quest to probe ever deeper into the vast reaches and mysteries of space, many evidences of this continuing process of creation are brought to light.

Consider the stars. Perhaps the most well-known case of a new star appearing in the heavens is that of the star of Bethlehem heralding the birth of Christ. What exactly was it? Although there are many possibilities—a new star, a comet, or a great stellar explosion—we really do not know its true nature. We do know, however, that stars are continually going through a process similar to that described by the Lord in conversing with Moses.

Indeed, even now astronomers are observing and studying objects in the heavens that could well have been created since the time of Christ’s earthly mission.

A prime example is the exciting discovery this past year of a newborn star in the center of the Orion Nebula, the great cloud of unorganized dust and gas in the constellation Orion. Although it is difficult to see through very dense nebulae to their centers, new instruments at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona allowed scientists there to detect the new star, as well as several other objects that may well be protostars or clumps of matter that are still in the formative stage and have not yet reached true stardom. The new star that has been identified is estimated to have “turned on” within only the past few thousand years, which is a very short time after the manner of the Lord’s reckoning.

But exactly how is a new star formed? And how is the birth of a star and its companion planets related to the “passing away” of another solar system?

One current theory is that as a great cloud of interstellar material swirls through space, portions of it become more dense than others and begin to draw together.

Coincidently, a nearby star may explode in a supernova. Some astronomers believe that when this happens, an expanding shock wave from the supernova may wrap itself around some of these localized dense pockets of dust and compress them even more. Once these compressed dust clouds become so packed together that they exceed a certain critical density, their own gravity then causes them to contract into compact spheres. At this point temperatures and pressures at their centers rise dramatically, and the spheres ignite—that is, they begin to produce energy by nuclear fusion and take their places among the shining lights of the universe.

Thus, the explosive death of one star can lead to the creation of several new stars and planets as the Lord presides over the continuing process of creation.

We must consider ourselves fortunate indeed to be able to behold and to comprehend in some small degree the enormity and grandeur of the work of our Heavenly Father, wherein He prepares worlds without number for the habitation of His children. It is no exaggeration to say that when we contemplate the heavens with their suns, moons, and planets, we contemplate God. For as the Lord has said, “… any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.” (D&C 88:47.) What greater reason can we have to cast our eyes heavenward?

Let us all look up and marvel at the work and glory of our Creator.

[photo] The Great Nebula in Orion. This fantastic cosmic cloud of dust and gas is a great star nursery, where many new stars are continually being created. (Copyrighted photo courtesy of the California Institute of Technology and the Smithsonian Institution.)

[photo] A great cloud of individual stars in our own Milky Way galaxy is a good example of the fact that God’s creations are indeed not “numbered unto man.” (Moses 1:37.) (Hale Observatories photo.)

[photo] One of the billions of galaxies that contain billions of stars. (Hale Observatories photo.)

[illustrations] One possible way by which the passing away of one star and its planetary system may lead to the creation of several others. A: Star, Dust Cloud. B: Supernova Explosion. C: Shock Wave. D: Compression of Dust Cloud. E: Newly Formed Sun and Planetary System. (Adapted from an article in Scientific American.)