Stars Are Still Being Born in the Wombs of Giant Gas Clouds

Chandra-Views-Giant-Gas-Cloud-in-System-NGC-6240


Stars are still being born, even today. No, this isn’t a piece about the births of the latest pop culture icons; it’s about the types of stars we see in the sky, using telescopes. The stars have their origins in the “wombs” of giant clouds of gas that can sometimes be over 100 light years long.

One of the places astronomers, using the Mopra Telescope that is 22 inches in length, have detected these humongous gas clouds is Coonabarabran, Australia. Though wildfires in January burned down the workshop adjacent to the Mopra telescope, the brick-encased control room where the telescope is located made it through the fire, sparing the Mopra, allowing the astronomers to continue to map the gas clouds.

What type of gas are the giant clouds made of, which give birth to stars?

The tremendously large gas clouds are largely composed of carbon monoxide. That’s a good thing for astronomers, as it’s the easiest gas to see and detect in space. In space, carbon monoxide is only second to hydrogen as being a commonly-found gas molecule in space.

How the gas clouds form is a mystery which is still an unresolved matter of debate.

Another type of gas clouds that researchers are trying to find are “dark” ones, which are much more difficult to detect, being low in carbon monoxide. Scientists theorize that the dark gas clouds are primarily composed of molecular hydrogen. It is a gas that would be too cold to register on current scientific instruments.

Still, astronomers in Chile and Antarctica who are using telescopes just might have success looking for the dark clouds, after all. That’s because they are looking for indications of carbon atoms instead of molecules that contain carbon.

Finding dark clouds could also mean finding gamma rays. Gamma rays might, scientists theorize, be produced within these clouds.

How do the huge molecular clouds of gas initially form?

Possible ways in which the huge gas clouds form include the collapse of a collection of several smaller clouds, caused by their collective gravitational draw, into a much bigger one.

An alternate theory is that they occur because of small gas clouds colliding together until a larger one is created.

Also possible is that, when stars collapse and die, their deaths act to “replenish” the giant clouds of gas.

Just this past May, astronomers discovered some dark clouds of hydrogen gas. They were in between galaxies that neighbor us. These clouds might be the proverbial tip of the iceberg of multitudes of other dark clouds of hydrogen gas that astronomers will eventually locate and map.

It is estimated that perhaps one star a year is “born” inside of these extremely large gas clouds.

Not all “stars” that are born are human ones, and not all of the stars that exist have been around since the beginning of time. Just like the birth of new volcanoes or mountain ranges on the Earth and other planets, stars, themselves, can be “born.” They are born in the “wombs” of giant clouds of gas.

 

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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