Radio telescopes have provided scientists with incredible information about our own galaxy, as well as those around us. While researchers understand a great deal of galaxies far away, gaps remain in the knowledge about our own, the Milky Way -- specifically, how global star formation works in our own backyard, and how many stars our galaxy is making per year.
"We have that information about other galaxies, just not our own," said Loren Anderson, assistant professor of physics at West Virginia University.
"We're stuck inside of our galaxy, so it's difficult to get a three-dimensional view of it, like we can others," he said.
Anderson has been awarded $363,734 by the National Science Foundation to create a three-dimensional map that will shed light on star formation in our galaxy.
Anderson and his research team have been trying to locate all massive star formation regions and to determine where they are in the galaxy, creating a three-dimensional map of where our galaxy is forming massive stars.
They will then measure the brightness of all known regions at infrared and radio wavelengths, and using the three-dimensional map data turn the brightnesses (how bright they appear) into luminosities (how bright they actually are). The infrared and radio luminosities of a galaxy are related to the number of stars it is making, and therefore Anderson will be able to better estimate the star formation rate of our Milky Way galaxy.
"A lot of what drives astronomy is understanding our place in the universe," Anderson said. "This is one way we can step back and look at our galaxy and see how it compares to others in the universe. It will help us to understand our galactic home a lot better."
Anderson also is developing a remote access tool that will allow students from Morgantown High School -- and potentially others across the state in the future -- to control the search for new star formation regions using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia.
Materials provided by West Virginia University - Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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