Tripping the Switch

A giant molecular cloud is subject to a pair of opposing forces. Gravity (as always) tends to pull the matter of the cloud inward, causing it to collapse and coalesce, yet as the constituent atoms of the cloud come together, they heat up, and heat tends to cause expansion, movement outward. Unless some event occurs to upset the balance, the cloud will remain in equilibrium.

Whatever the cause, it is clear (since we have stars!) that some molecular clouds become gravita-tionally unstable and begin to collapse. As a cloud collapses, its density and temperature increase, allowing smaller pieces of the cloud (with less mass) to collapse. The result is that once a cloud begins to collapse, it breaks into many fragments, which will form scores, even hundreds (depending on the original cloud mass) of stars of various masses. The size of each fragment will determine the mass of the star that forms.

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Telescopes Mastery

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