The measurement is based on a new method that looks at the scattered near-infrared light or 'cloudshine' and was made with ESO's New Technology Telescope. Associated with the forthcoming VISTA telescope, this new technique will allow astronomers to better understand the cradles of newborn stars.
The vast expanses between stars are permeated with giant complexes of cold gas and dust opaque to visible light. Yet these are the future nurseries of stars to be.
"One would like to have a detailed knowledge of the interiors of these dark clouds to better understand where and when new stars will appear," says Mika Juvela, lead author of the paper in which these results are reported.
Because the dust in these clouds blocks the visible light, the distribution of matter within interstellar clouds can be examined only indirectly. One method is based on measurements of the light from stars that are located behind the cloud  .
"This method, albeit quite useful, is limited by the fact that the level of details one can obtain depends on the distribution of background stars," says co-author Paolo Padoan.
In 2006, astronomers Padoan, Juvela, and colleague Veli-Matti Pelkonen, proposed that maps of scattered light could be used as another tracer of the cloud's inner structure, a method that should yield more advantages. The idea is to estimate the amount of dust located along the line of sight by measuring the intensity of the scattered light.
Dark clouds are feebly illuminated by nearby stars. This light is scattered by the dust contained in the clouds, an effect dubbed 'cloudshine' by Harvard astronomers Alyssa Goodman and Jonathan Foster. This effect is well known to sky lovers, as they create in visible light wonderful pieces of art called 'reflection nebulae'. The Chameleon I complex nebula is one beautiful example.
When making observations in the near-infrared, art becomes science. Near-infrared radiation can indeed propagate much farther into the cloud than visible light and the maps of scattered light can be used to measure the mass of the material inside the cloud.
To put this method to the test and use it for the first time for a quantitative estimation of the distribution of mass within a cloud, the astronomers who made the original suggestion, together with Kalevi Mattila, made observations in the near-infrared of a filament in the Corona Australis cloud  . The observations were made in August 2006 with the SOFI instrument on ESO's New Technology Telescope at La Silla, in the Chilean Atacama Desert. The filament was observed for about 21 hours.
Their observations confirm that the scattering method is providing results that are as reliable as the use of background stars while providing much more detail.
"We can now obtain very high resolution images of dark clouds and so better study their internal structure and dynamics," says Juvela. "Not only is the level of details in the resulting map no longer dependent on the distribution of background stars, but we have also shown that where the density of the cloud becomes too high to be able to see any background stars, the new method can still be applied."
"The presented method and the confirmation of its feasibility will enable a wide range of studies into the interstellar medium and star formation within the Milky Way and even other galaxies," says co-author Mattila.
"This is an important result because, with current and planned near-infrared instruments, large cloud areas can be mapped with high resolution," adds Pelkonen. "For example, the VIRCAM instrument on ESO's soon-to-come VISTA telescope has a field of view hundreds of times larger than SOFI. Using our method, it will prove amazingly powerful for the study of stellar nurseries."Notes
: Located in the constellation of the same name ('Southern Crown'), the Corona Australis molecular cloud is shaped like a 45 light year long cigar. Located about 500 light years away, it contains the equivalent of about 7000 Suns. On the sky, the dark cloud is surrounded by many beautiful 'reflection nebulae'.: Observations of a star-forming cloud with ESO's VLT and based on near-infrared scattering is available as ESO Press Photo 26/03.
Henri Boffin | alfa
Turning entanglement upside down
22.05.2018 | Universität Innsbruck
Astronomers release most complete ultraviolet-light survey of nearby galaxies
18.05.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.
The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
22.05.2018 | Life Sciences
22.05.2018 | Earth Sciences
22.05.2018 | Trade Fair News