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Paint it Black: Cosmic Clumps Cast the Darkest Shadows

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Astronomers have found cosmic clumps so dark, dense and dusty that they throw the deepest shadows ever recorded. Infrared observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope of these blackest-of-black regions paradoxically light the way to understanding how the brightest stars form.

The clumps represent the darkest portions of a huge, cosmic cloud of gas and dust located about 16,000 light-years away. A new study takes advantage of the shadows cast by these clumps to measure the cloud’s structure and mass.

The dusty cloud, results suggest, will likely evolve into one of the most massive young clusters of stars in our galaxy. The densest clumps will blossom into the cluster’s biggest, most powerful stars, called O-type stars, the formation of which has long puzzled scientists. These hulking stars have major impacts on their local stellar environments while also helping to create the heavy elements needed for life.

Astronomers have found cosmic clumps so dark, dense and dusty that they throw the deepest shadows ever recorded. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Zurich

Astronomers have found cosmic clumps so dark, dense and dusty that they throw the deepest shadows ever recorded. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Zurich

“The map of the structure of the cloud and its dense cores we have made in this study reveals a lot of fine details about the massive star and star cluster formation process,” said Michael Butler, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and lead author of the study, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by physicsgg

May 22, 2014 at 6:09 am

Posted in ASTRONOMY, ASTROPHYSICS, MUSIC

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