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Another One Bites the Dust
26 March 2020

When baking a cake, ingredients like flour and sugar are crucial for a delicious treat. Likewise, in space, dust is one of the crucial ingredients for making stars!

Unlike another key ingredient, gas particles, the dust isn’t used as fuel to power the stars, but without it they would never be born. That’s because stars can only form when the material in the star-forming region is dense enough. This is where the dust grains help out – adding some extra bulk.

To better understand these regions of gas and dust where stars are born, astronomers in Japan have captured new, detailed maps of three nearby gas clouds where large stars are being created, including one called M17 which is imaged above. This is called the Star Formation Project, and it will help us improve our understanding of how stars are formed.

Sometimes telescopes can help us see what our eyes cannot. To make these maps, special observations were taken of a type of invisible light called infrared, which can typically reveal more stars than images taken in visible light (which is what we can see with our eyes). This is because infrared radiation passes more freely through cosmic dust, and this allows astronomers to see regions of space that are normally concealed and hidden by cosmic dust and gas.

Image credit: NASA, Holland Ford (JHU), the ACS Science Team and ESA

Cool Fact

The region shown in this picture – a region called M17 made of gas and dust where stars are formed – is about 3500 times wider than our entire Solar System!


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