Birth of Stars, Near and Far

May 2018

Briefing date: May 3, 2018 (3:30pm EST)


Dr. Emma Marcucci (Space Telescope Science Institute)


  • Dr. Solange Ramírez (Caltech/IPAC)

  • Dr. Steven Finkelstein (University of Texas at Austin)

  • Dr. Bryan Méndez (University of California, Berkeley)

 Slide presentation:

Transcript and audio recording:

Additional resources:

  • NASA Wavelength Resources* (PDF file) 594 KB
    *Due to changes in the NASA Wavelength resource database, please use the attached resource PDF in lieu of URLs listed in slides. Original activity URLs should operate as normal.


The lifecycle of stars is an integral part of the dynamic universe, resulting in the recycling of material and creation of elements that are critical to solar system formation and life. This briefing will cover the first step of the lifecycle—the birth of stars, or star formation. Stars form in dense clouds of gas and dust, or nebulae. When observing local regions, these large molecular clouds are often opaque to visible light due to the dust, but other wavelengths of light, such as infrared or x-ray, penetrate these stellar nurseries, such as the Lagoon Nebula released for the Hubble Space Telescope’s 28th Anniversary. Observing star formation in the early universe requires different techniques, and also represents a period of greater star formation. Astronomers use deep-peering telescopes, spectroscopic methods, and gravitational lenses to study light from stars in the distant Universe.

In this briefing, we will learn about star formation close to home as well as in the distant (early) Universe. Dr. Solange Ramírez will explain star formation in our own Milky Way, and how different wavelengths of light are used to understand it. Moving to the distant universe, Dr. Steven Finkelstein will discuss star formation in the early universe, which is studied using some of the deepest images ever obtained by Hubble. Dr. Bryan Méndez will highlight resources that can be used to engage audiences in your venues.


Dr. Emma Marcucci is an Education and Outreach Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute. She received her Ph.D. in planetary geology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2013. As a Postdoctoral Fellow, she worked with satellite stereo images to derive topographic models of locations that lack good elevation information, such as locations in Alaska and on Mars and Mercury. Dr. Marcucci is now part of the Office of Public Outreach at STScI, sharing the science of Hubble and Webb with the general public and astrophysics content as a member of the Universe of Learning, an Astrophysics-based STEM learning and literacy program funded through NASA SMD.

Dr. Solange Ramírez is a scientist working at the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI), part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She grew up in La Serena, Chile, in South America, with its clear night skies, and visited the four-meter Blanco telescope at Cerro Tololo in second grade; this led to her interest in astronomy. Solange received her Ph.D. in Astronomy in 2000 from The Ohio State University. Her science interests are related to star formation the Galactic Center of the Milky Way.

Dr. Steven Finkelstein is an Associate Professor of astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his BS in Astronomy and Physics in 2003 from the University of Washington, and his PhD in Physics in 2008 from Arizona State University. He was a postdoctoral research associate from 2008-2011 at Texas A&M University, and took a prize Hubble Fellowship in 2011 to the University of Texas at Austin, where he joined the faculty in 2012. He uses the world’s largest ground-based telescopes in concert with deep space-based imaging to discover and characterize the most distant galaxies in the universe.

Dr. Bryan Méndez works to educate and inspire others about the wonder and beauty of the Universe as an education specialist at UC Berkeley’s Space Science Laboratory and an adjunct professor of physics at Diablo Valley College. He develops educational programs and resources for students, teachers, and the public; conducts professional development for science educators; and teaches college courses in astronomy and physics. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1997 with degrees in Astronomy, Physics, and Music; and continued his studies at the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 2002 with a Ph.D. in Astrophysics. Bryan is a family man devoted to his wife and the most precious twin boys in all the cosmos, a sci-fi/fantasy geek with particular obsessions for Star Wars and Star Trek, a saxophonist, and an aspiring filmmaker. Bryan is bicultural, of Mexican and European backgrounds, and strives to foster diverse perspectives in his work.