Science and Exploration

Mapping Invisible Pools of Gas in Our Galaxy (Illustration)

By Marc Boucher
Status Report
June 12, 2013
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Mapping Invisible Pools of Gas in Our Galaxy (Illustration)
Illustration: Mapping Invisible Pools of Gas in Our Galaxy

This illustration shows a newfound reservoir of stellar fuel discovered by the Herschel space observatory (red). Stars are formed out of pools of gaseous hydrogen molecules. To locate these pools, astronomers have historically looked for carbon monoxide (CO), which is co-located with the hydrogen gas (orange).
But this tracer molecule does not lead astronomers to all of the star-making material in our galaxy. By using Herschel to map ionized carbon (C+), scientists were able to find additional reservoirs of the hydrogen gas.

Herschel is a European Space Agency mission, with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. NASA’s Herschel Project Office is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel’s three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, supports the United States astronomical community. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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