Mechanism

Creativity with ROI Advertising? Email info@mechanism.com for more information

Strange Molecules' Map in Our Galaxy Sheds New Light on a Century-Old Riddle

According to a recent study at Johns Hopkins University whose results were published earlier on in January 2015, astronomers have come up with a unique map of mysterious molecules in our galaxy that are suspected to be responsible for some really puzzling characteristics in the light our planet receives from stars. 

The astronomers participating in this research, all from Johns Hopkins’ Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), achieved this by doing an analysis of the light that is emitted by hundreds of thousands of different celestial bodies. They unveiled the map at the 225th American Astronomical Society conference held in Seattle on January 8th. 

Brice Menard, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins, termed the sighting of where the enigmatic molecules are situated as fascinating, with another astronomer who played a major role in the research project, Gail Zasowski, adding that creating the new map necessitated using the power of statistical analyses to analyze massive amounts of data. 

Astronomers call the intriguing features identified in the light Diffuse Interstellar Bands, or DIBs. They have baffled scientists ever since Lick Observatory’s Mary Lea-Heger discovered them in 1922. As she examined the light from the stars then, she uncovered some unusual lines created by an unknown thing present in the interstellar space between Earth and the stars. 

More research then revealed that the mystical lines were a result of various molecules, but nobody could decipher their identity from the thousands present. The new map, created from SDSS data compiled from two parallel studies almost a century later, has revealed their location. 

Zasowski, who is a post-doctoral fellow, was in charge of one team that concentrated on the densest sections of the galaxy and used infrared observations that are capable of cutting through the dust clouds and reaching stars that were previously concealed. 

Ting-Wen Lan, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, was in charge of researchers in another survey, which utilized visible light to unearth the puzzling molecules positioned above the plane of our galaxy, where their signals were very faint and more difficult to measure. 

Menard, who performed different tasks in the two research teams, also explained that they do not yet have a full map but interesting patterns can already be seen. 

Lan's group did an analysis of light rays emanating from more than 500,000 stars, galaxies and quasars and was able to identify the molecules in areas well beyond and above the disk forming the galaxy. Additionally, the group succeeded in seeing the kinds of environments where they were more likely to be located. Some molecules prefer dense spots where gas and dust are found while others like lonelier areas farther away from the stars. 

According to Lan, the outcome of the study will be a guide to researchers as they work towards the best laboratory experiments and observations so that the nature of these molecules is fully understood. 

Zasowski's group used SDSS data from the APOGEE survey to view the galactic plane concealed behind heavy clouds of cosmic dust. Using infrared light, APOGEE observations enable scientists to view through interstellar dust quite easily and measure the characteristics of stars all over the galaxy.  

The researchers were able to detect some of the mysterious properties in front of approximately 60,000 stars situated in an extensive range of environments, and even succeeded in measuring the motion of the molecules, shedding more light on the correlation between them and other dynamics of the galaxy. 

Menard says that scientists are getting closer to full understanding of the molecules, adding that the Big Data era in astronomy enables the universe to be viewed in whole new ways. With these massive datasets, and so much to explore, Menard believes that this is just the start of so much to come. 

 

Image credit: T.W. Lan, G. Zasowski, B. Meacutenard, SDSS and 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF

Smithy

Smithy

Top Posts | Aerospace

Get Ready to Experience Mars in Real Time

Space travel is reaching new horizons as the years go by, with plans already in the works to develop colonies on Mars. Until that happens, anyone interested in space and the red planet, in particular, can enjoy a virtual journey of Mars’ surface thanks to a great new program from NASA. As tec ... ...

This Windbot Will Fly over Jupiter Forever

Exciting new space programs are on the horizon as the world turns its attention towards the exploration of the various planets throughout our solar system. After the launch of the famous Curiosity robot that is currently roaming around Mars, NASA now has plans to develop a windbot that will make us ...

The U.S. Air Force Hypersonic X-51A Waverider Program

Just recently the U.S. Air Force teamed up with Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) to sign a new contract. The group will continue working on the X-51A Waverider program that the Air Force began in 2004. The hypersonic flight program was given a $300 million budget to develop a hypers ...

Futuristic Jetpacks are Here!

Martin Aircraft Co in New Zealand was originally established as a research and development company. However, this year at the International Paris Air Show the company introduced their new Martin Jetpack. The new jetpack is a fan-propelled personal flying machine that will be available next year. Bu ...

Nasa to Bring in Cheap Supersonic Air Travel

The number of air travel passengers is expected to rise within the next five to ten years, and NASA is working on a solution involving eco-friendly and cheap supersonic air travel along with some industry partners. If everything goes well, we might have commercial supersonic flights in 15 years, or ...

3D Printed Rocket Engines Open Door to Space Entrepreneurs

A satellite launch can cost from $10 million to $50 million, but 3D print technology could see these costs plummet.Cost savingsFor a mere $4.9 million, New Zealand company Rocketlab can send a small satellite up into orbit.  The engine the company uses is called the Rutherford and is ... ...

13 Ways to Write a Brilliant Blog Post on Mechanism

So, you're ready to write an awesome blog post. Fantastic!Here are some useful tips and tricks to get you on your way to blogging glory in no time.Edit It Like You Mean It: While we don't want to play the role of Captain Obvious, editing your blog post for spelling, grammar, and punctuation ... ...

How to Measure Asstronomical Distances: An Introduction

What are the distances we come across in our daily lives? One km, 10 km, 100 km, 1000 km, or even 50,000 km. But the distance between the sun and earth is approximately 150 million kilometers (i.e. 150,000,000 km). So how to scientists make such large astronomical measurements? Up to a certain leve ...