Giant clouds of molecular gas – the most massive objects in our galaxy – are the birthplaces of stars.
A UNSW-led team has used a telescope in Antarctica to identify a giant gas cloud in our galaxy which appears to be in an early stage of formation. Image is of the PLATO-R observatory at Ridge A. The HEAT telescope is the black object on stilts at left, the instrument module is the yellow box and the solar panel array is on the right.
Credit: Image: Geoff Sims
"This newly discovered gas cloud is shaped like a very long filament, about 200 light years in extent and ten light years across, with a mass about 50,000 times that of our sun," says team leader, Professor Michael Burton, an astronomer at UNSW Australia.
"The evidence suggests it is in the early stages of formation, before any stars have turned on."
The results are published in The Astrophysical Journal.
The team is using the High Elevation Antarctic Terahertz telescope, or HEAT, at Ridge A, along with the Mopra telescope at Coonabarabran in NSW, to map the location of gas clouds in our galaxy from the carbon they contain.
At 4000 metres elevation, Ridge A is one of the coldest places on the planet, and the driest. The lack of water vapour in the atmosphere there allows terahertz radiation from space to reach the ground and be detected.
The PLATO-R robotic observatory with the HEAT telescope was installed in 2012 by a team led by UNSW physicist, Professor Michael Ashley, and Dr Craig Kulesa of the University of Arizona.
"We now have an autonomous telescope observing our galaxy from the middle of Antarctica and getting data, which is a stunning new way of doing science. Ridge A is more than 900 kilometres from the nearest people, who are at the South Pole, and is completely unattended for most of the year," says Professor Burton.
The HEAT telescope detects atomic carbon and the Mopra telescope detects carbon monoxide. "I call it following the galactic carbon trail," says Professor Burton.
The discovery of the new galactic cloud, which is about 15,000 light years from earth, will help determine how these mysterious objects develop in the interstellar medium.
One theory is that they are formed from the gravitational collapse of an ensemble of small clouds into a larger one. Another involves the random collision of small clouds that then agglomerate. Or it may be that the molecular gas filament is condensing out of a very large, surrounding cloud of atomic gas.
About one star per year, on average, is formed in the Milky Way. Stars that explode and die then replenish the gas clouds as well as moving the gas about and mixing it up.
The team includes researchers from Australia, Germany and the US.
Media contacts:Professor Michael Burton: +61 (2) 9385 5618, email@example.com
Deborah Smith | EurekAlert!
Soundproofing with quantum physics
06.07.2015 | ETH Zurich
The quantum middle man
06.07.2015 | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University
Wind turbines could be installed under some of the biggest bridges on the road network to produce electricity. So it is confirmed by calculations carried out by a European researchers team, that have taken a viaduct in the Canary Islands as a reference. This concept could be applied in heavily built-up territories or natural areas with new constructions limitations.
The Juncal Viaduct, in Gran Canaria, has served as a reference for Spanish and British researchers to verify that the wind blowing between the pillars on this...
New technique combines electron microscopy and synchrotron X-rays to track chemical reactions under real operating conditions
A new technique pioneered at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real...
Think of an object made of iron: An I-beam, a car frame, a nail. Now imagine that half of the iron in that object owes its existence to bacteria living two and a half billion years ago.
Think of an object made of iron: An I-beam, a car frame, a nail. Now imagine that half of the iron in that object owes its existence to bacteria living two and...
A team of scientists including PhD student Friedrich Schuler from the Laboratory of MEMS Applications at the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) of...
The three-year clinical trial results of the retinal implant popularly known as the "bionic eye," have proven the long-term efficacy, safety and reliability of...
25.06.2015 | Event News
16.06.2015 | Event News
11.06.2015 | Event News
06.07.2015 | Power and Electrical Engineering
06.07.2015 | Press release
06.07.2015 | Physics and Astronomy