Download [Magazine] Scientific American. 2002. Vol. 286. No 1 PDF

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In the Milky Way the competing feedback effects almost balance out, so that stars form at an unhurried pace— just 10 per year on average. In some galaxies, however, such as the “exploding galaxy” M82, positive feedback has gained the upper hand. Starting 20 million to 50 million years ago, star formation in the central parts of M82 began running out of control, proceeding 10 times faster than before. Our galaxy, too, may have had sporadic bursts. How these starbursts occur and what turns them off must be tied to the complex relation between stars and the tenuous atmosphere from which they precipitate.

For them, such research is equivalent to killing a living child in order to harvest its organs for the benefit of others. Some of those who think this way, however, might nonetheless find acceptable research on human stem cells derived from embryos left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures. They reason, rightly or wrongly, that these embryos are certain to be destroyed and that at least some good might result from using the cells. But therapeutic cloning remains totally unacceptable to such people because it involves the deliberate creation of what they deem to be a human being in order to destroy it.

It may all begin with a single O-type star or a cluster of such stars in a giant molecular cloud. The stellar radiation, winds and explosions carve a modest cavity out of the surrounding interstellar medium. In the process the parent cloud is probably destroyed. Perchance this disturbance triggers star formation in a nearby cloud, and so on, until the interstellar medium in this corner of the galaxy begins to resemble Swiss cheese. The bubbles then begin to overlap, coalescing into a superbubble.

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