Focus Areas for WISE
How do stars form and evolve? Stars are the most widely recognized astronomical objects, and represent the most fundamental building blocks of galaxies. The age, distribution, and composition of the stars in a galaxy trace the history, dynamics, and evolution of that galaxy. Moreover, stars are responsible for the manufacture and distribution of heavy elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, and their characteristics are intimately tied to the characteristics of the planetary systems that may coalesce about them. Consequently, the study of the birth, life, and death of stars is central to the field of astronomy.
Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is typical: it has hundreds of billions of stars, enough gas and dust to make billions more stars, and about six times as much dark matter as all the stars and gas put together. And it’s all held together by gravity. Like more than two-thirds of the known galaxies, the Milky Way has a spiral shape. At the center of the spiral, a lot of energy and, occasionally, vivid flares. are being generated. Based on the immense gravity that would be required explain the movement of stars and the energy expelled, the astronomers conclude that at the center of the Milky Way is a supermassive black hole.