Don’t they seem so serene sparkling away in the night sky?
It’s a shame but we all know that’s not always been the case.
It is generally thought that stars form in a violent reaction between gas particles when dense parts of molecular clouds collapse from their own gravity (for more information on star formation check out this website - it explains it brilliantly - http://www.universetoday.com/24190/how-does-a-star-form/).
Stars similar to our own sun formed in galactic clusters and are thought to form the centre of these molecular nebulae. During formation the massive young stars give off hot winds to carve bubbles inside of these gigantic clouds. Yes you read that right - BUBBLES!
More and more of these massive bubbles are being discovered thanks to a huge venture involving the public - “The Milky Way Project”. The scheme, named after our very own galaxy, comprises of over 440,000 images taken for the survey, which aimed to map around 85% of the Milky Way, were taken by a camera onboard the Spitzer Space Telescope in association with an analysis called GLIMPSE (Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire - good job they came up with an acronym ‘cause that’s rather a mouthful!). Spitzer’s high resolution infrared camera is able to plot the galactic plane in great detail making it possible to see these amazing galactic bubbles. More information about GLIMPSE and Spitzer can be found here: http://www.astro.wisc.edu/sirtf/
The project is attempting to, among other things, determine exactly what these bubbles actually are. At the moment physicist think that these regions around the young stars are actually a bit like shockwaves which can be seen in infrared light (in the image above credited to NASA and “The Milky Way Project” the red area represents where the ‘shock’ has already passed through and the bright green ring around it is where the ‘shock’ is now in the gas cloud).
By using the “bubble-drawing interface” on their website it is hoped that the general public can lend a hand trying to plot and track down some more of these unusual characteristics in order to aid in scientists’ understanding, and perhaps wile away a rainy lunch hour or two.
To read more about “The Milky Way Project” visit their website - http://www.milkywayproject.org/ - it looks like a great way to get involved!
17 January 2012