Stars are one of the most fascinating phenomena in the universe. These giant balls of fire hold planets, asteroids, and meteorites in their firm gravitational grip and their light travels far and wide. But how did they get here? These incredible orbs must have come from somewhere, right? What would it be like to witness this epic birth, and why would this beautiful event have a funny smell? This is what we will explore in this post – what it would be like to witness a star being born.
The Milky Way galaxy contains around 200 billion stars, and depending on where you look in the night sky, you could see around 5,000 stars with your naked eye. Looking further out into the universe with the help of telescopes, there are simply too many stars to name. To witness the birth of a star, you would need to travel to one of the many star nurseries in the universe. These are known as nebulas, which are huge clouds of gas and dust that can span light-years across.
One of the most famous stellar nurseries in our galaxy is the Orion Nebula, located 1,344 light-years away. Here you would find the necessary ingredients for a star to be born – gas, dust, gravity, and turbulence. Being in the middle of a nebula would feel like being in the clouds, surrounded by over 200 different kinds of molecules, including hydrogen and helium gas, as well as microscopic grains of silicon and iron.
Conditions in this cloud would be frigid, with temperatures as low as minus 270 degrees Celsius. Suddenly, you would be hit by a blast, a ripple effect from an exploding nearby star, causing the nebula to become turbulent. This would be the beginning of the epic event you’re here for. Dust particles would begin to clump together, forming denser knots. Once these knots gain enough mass, they would collapse under their own gravity, and their internal pressure and temperature would increase.
At around 2,200 degrees Celsius, these high-pressure knots would emit a dull red glow. However, you wouldn’t be able to see it because that light would be infrared. But you would be uncomfortably aware of the temperature starting to rise. Eventually, the protostar before your eyes would emit its first rays of visible light.
But wait, do you smell that? Well, no, of course, you don’t. You’re wearing a heat-resistant spacesuit. But if you could, you’d learn that this hot mass of dust and gas would also have a unique smell, depending on the mixture of compounds around you. You could detect hints of sweetness, lemon, or even alcohol. It might not necessarily be a bad smell, but it’s certainly not pleasant.
However, the protostar wouldn’t only be pulling things inward. Every now and then, it would shoot powerful