Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Map of Mysterious Molecules In Our Galaxy Sheds New Light on Century-Old Puzzle

13.01.2015

By analyzing the light of hundreds of thousands of celestial objects, Johns Hopkins astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) have created a unique map of enigmatic molecules in our galaxy that are responsible for puzzling features in the light from stars.

The map, which can be viewed at http://is.gd/dibmap , was unveiled Jan. 8 at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.


T.W. Lan, G. Zasowski, B. Ménard, SDSS and 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF

Map of diffuse interstellar bands in the Milky Way.

“Seeing where these mysterious molecules are located is fascinating,” said Brice Ménard, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University.

Gail Zasowski, another Johns Hopkins astronomer who played a key role in the project, added, “This new map required analyzing huge amounts of data and using the power of statistical analyses.”

These puzzling features in the light from stars, which astronomers call “Diffuse Interstellar Bands” (DIBs), have been a mystery ever since they were discovered by astronomer Mary Lea Heger of Lick Observatory in 1922. While analyzing the light from stars, she found unexpected lines that were created by something existing in the interstellar space between the stars and the Earth.

Further research showed that these mysterious lines were due to a variety of molecules. But exactly which of many thousands of possible molecules are responsible for these features has remained a mystery for almost a century.

This new map, based on SDSS data that reveals the location of these enigmatic molecules, was compiled from two parallel studies.

Zasowski, a postdoctoral fellow, led one team that focused on the densest parts of our galaxy, using infrared observations that can cut through the dust clouds and reach previously obscured stars. Johns Hopkins graduate student Ting-Wen Lan led the other study, which used visible light to detect the mysterious molecules located above the plane of the galaxy, where their signatures are very weak and harder to measure.

“We do not have a full map yet, but we can already see a lot of interesting patterns,” said Ménard, who worked on both teams.

Lan's team analyzed the light from more than half a million stars, galaxies, and quasars to detect the molecules’ features in the regions well above and beyond the Milky Way’s disk. In addition, the team was able to see the types of environments in which these molecules are more likely to be found. Some molecules like dense regions of gas and dust, and others prefer the lonelier spots far away from stars.

“These results will guide researchers toward the best observations and laboratory experiments to pin down the properties and nature of these enigmatic molecules,” Lan said.

To look toward the galactic plane, hidden behind thick clouds of cosmic dust, Zasowski's team used data from the SDSS's APOGEE survey. APOGEE observations, which make use of infrared light, can easily see through interstellar dust and measure the properties of stars all over the galaxy.

The team members detected some of the mysterious features in front of about 60,000 stars in a wide range of environments and were even able to measure the motion of these molecules. “For the first time, we can see how these mysterious molecules are moving around the galaxy,” Zasowski said. “This is extremely useful and brings in new connections between these molecules and the dynamics of the Milky Way.”

All the recent findings concerning these mysterious features paint a picture of tough little molecules that can exist in a variety of environments, all over the galaxy.

“Almost a hundred years after their discovery, the exact nature of these molecules still remains a mystery, but we are getting one step closer to understanding what they are made of,” Ménard said. “The era of Big Data in astronomy allows us to look at the universe in new ways. There is so much to explore with these large datasets. This is just the beginning.”

The researchers used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The work was supported by National Science Foundation Grant AST-1109665 and NSF postdoctoral fellowship AST-1203017.

Photos of the researchers available; contact Phil Sneiderman.

Contact Information
Media contact: Phil Sneiderman
Office: 443-997-9907; Cell: 410-299-7462
prs@jhu.edu / On Twitter: @filroy

Phil Sneiderman | newswise
Further information:
http://www.jhu.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht The moon is front and center during a total solar eclipse
24.07.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Superluminous supernova marks the death of a star at cosmic high noon
24.07.2017 | Royal Astronomical Society

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Ultrathin device harvests electricity from human motion

24.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Scientists announce the quest for high-index materials

24.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

ADIR Project: Lasers Recover Valuable Materials

24.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>