A team of astronomers led by Yancy Shirley at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory has completed the largest-ever survey of dense gas clouds in the Milky Way – pockets shrouded in gas and dust where new stars are being born. Cataloging and mapping more than 6,000 gas clouds, the survey allows astronomers to better understand the earliest phases of star formation.
“When you look at the Milky Way on a clear summer night, you’ll notice it’s not a continuous stream of stars,” said Shirley. “Instead, you’ll notice all those little dark patches where there seem to be no stars. But those regions are not devoid of stars – they’re dark clouds containing dust and gas, the raw material from which stars and planets are forming in our Milky Way today.”
According to Shirley, the survey is a major step forward in astronomy because it allows astronomers to study the earliest phases of star formation when the gas and dust in the star-forming clouds are just beginning to coalesce, before giving rise to clusters of stars. He explained that much of the research over the last 30 to 40 years has been very targeted towards regions where prospective stars, called proto-stars, have already begun to take shape.
“All the famous, major regions of star formation in our galaxy have been studied in great detail,” Shirley said. “But we know very little about what happens in those star-less clumps before proto-stars form, and where.”
Read more at: Phys.org