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Probing Stellar Nurseries

By David Reneke

David Reneke’s wrap-up of space and astronomy news.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

An international team of astronomers has begun to map the location of the most massive and mysterious objects in our galaxy: the giant gas clouds where new stars are born. The team is searching for carbon monoxide as a marker of galactic clouds of molecular gas that can be up to 100 light years across.

“On Earth, carbon monoxide is poisonous, a silent killer, but in space it’s the second most abundant molecule and the easiest to see,” says team leader Prof Michael Burton of the University of NSW. “One of the largest unresolved mysteries in galactic astronomy is how these giant, diffuse clouds form in the interstellar medium. This process plays a key role in the cosmic cycle of birth and death of stars.”

The carbon monoxide survey of the southern Milky Way is being carried out with the 22-metre Mopra millimetre wave telescope at Coonabarabran. While the adjoining workshop, office, and accommodation wing were destroyed by bushfire in January, the telescope’s control room survived as it was encased in brick.

The team is also searching for “dark” galactic gas clouds that contain little carbon monoxide. It is assumed these clouds are mostly made up of molecular hydrogen, which is too cold to detect.

The team is using telescopes in Antarctica and Chile to search for these dark clouds, based on the presence of carbon atoms rather than carbon molecules...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.