Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Shining a light on cool pools of gas in the galaxy

Date:
June 11, 2013
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Newly formed stars shine brightly, practically crying out, "Hey, look at me!" But not everything in our Milky Way galaxy is easy to see. The bulk of material between the stars in the galaxy -- the cool hydrogen gas from which stars spring -- is nearly impossible to find.

This illustration shows a newfound reservoir of stellar fuel discovered by the Herschel space observatory (red).
Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Newly formed stars shine brightly, practically crying out, "Hey, look at me!" But not everything in our Milky Way galaxy is easy to see. The bulk of material between the stars in the galaxy -- the cool hydrogen gas from which stars spring -- is nearly impossible to find.

A new study from the Hershel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA participation, is shining a light on these hidden pools of gas, revealing their whereabouts and quantities. In the same way that dyes are used to visualize swirling motions of transparent fluids, the Herschel team has used a new tracer to map the invisible hydrogen gas.

The discovery reveals that the reservoir of raw material for making stars had been underestimated before -- almost by one third -- and extends farther out from our galaxy's center than known before.

"There is an enormous additional reservoir of material available to form new stars that we couldn't identify before," said Jorge Pineda of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead author of a new paper on the findings published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

"We had to go to space to solve this mystery because our atmosphere absorbs the specific radiation we wanted to detect," said William Langer of JPL, principal investigator of the Herschel project to map the gas. "We also needed to see far-infrared light to pinpoint the location of the gas. For both these reasons, Herschel was the only telescope for the job."

Stars are created from clouds of gas, made of hydrogen molecules. The first step in making a star is to squeeze gas together enough that atoms fuse into molecules. The gas starts out sparse but, through the pull of gravity and sometimes other constricting forces, it collects and becomes denser. When the hydrogen gets dense enough, nuclear fusion takes place and a star is born, shining with starlight.

Astronomers studying stars want to follow this journey, from a star's humble beginnings as a cloud of molecules to a full-blown blazing orb. To do so requires mapping the distribution of the stellar hydrogen fuel across the galaxy. Unfortunately, most hydrogen molecules in space are too cold to give off any visible light. They lurk unseen by most telescopes.

For decades, researchers have turned to a tracer molecule called carbon monoxide, which goes hand-in-hand with the hydrogen molecules, revealing their location. But this method has limitations. In regions where the gas is just beginning to pool -- the earliest stage of cloud formation -- there is no carbon monoxide.

"Ultraviolet light destroys the carbon monoxide," said Langer. "In the space between stars, where the gas is very thin, there is not enough dust to shield molecules from destruction by ultraviolet light."

A different tracer -- ionized carbon -- does, however, linger in these large but relatively empty spaces, and can be used to pin down the hydrogen molecules. Researchers have observed ionized carbon from space before, but Herschel has, for the first time, provided a dramatically improved geographic map of its location and abundance in the galaxy.

"Thanks to Herschel's incredible sensitivity, we can separate material moving at different speeds," said Paul Goldsmith, a co-author and the NASA Herschel Project Scientist at JPL. "We finally can get the whole picture of what's available to make future generations of stars."

Read a more in-depth story about this research from the European Space Agency at http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/object/index.cfm?fobjectid=51909 . The technical paper is online at http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.7770 .

Herschel is a European Space Agency mission, with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. NASA's Herschel Project Office is based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel's three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, supports the United States astronomical community. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information is online at http://www.herschel.caltech.edu , http://www.nasa.gov/herschel and http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Herschel .


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Shining a light on cool pools of gas in the galaxy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130611144802.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2013, June 11). Shining a light on cool pools of gas in the galaxy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130611144802.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Shining a light on cool pools of gas in the galaxy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130611144802.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

NASA (July 25, 2014) Apollo 11 celebration, Next Giant Leap anticipation, ISS astronauts appear in the House and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Coming and Going

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

NASA (July 25, 2014) One station cargo ship leaves, another arrives, aquatic research and commercial spinoffs. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
How A Solar Flare Could Have Wrecked Earth's Electronics

How A Solar Flare Could Have Wrecked Earth's Electronics

Newsy (July 25, 2014) Researchers say if Earth had been a week earlier in its orbit around the sun, it would have taken a direct hit from a 2012 coronal mass ejection. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins