Vast Cosmic Dust Clouds --The Incubators of Life in the Universe?
- Interesting post from The Daily Galaxy.
This is nothing really new. Hoyle and _Chandra Wickramasinghe_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandra_Wickramasinghe) , described this in their book
Sent: 2/12/2013 6:14:57 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: The Daily Galaxy: News from Planet Earth & Beyond
_The Daily Galaxy: News from Planet Earth & Beyond_
_Vast Cosmic Dust Clouds --The Incubators of Life in the Universe?_
Posted: 12 Feb 2013 08:35 AM PST
A new image from _the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX)_
3,-67.7588888889 (Atacama%20Pathfinder%20Experiment)&t=h) telescope in
Chile shows a beautiful view of clouds of _cosmic dust_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_dust) in the region of Orion, typical of dust clouds
throughout the Universe that have recently been discovered to incubate the comlpex
organic building blocks of life. While these dense interstellar clouds
seem dark and obscured in visible-light observations, APEX’s LABOCA camera can
detect the heat glow of the dust and reveal the hiding places where new
stars are being formed. But one of these dark clouds is not what it seems.In
space, dense clouds of cosmic gas and dust are the birthplaces of new
stars. In visible light, this dust is dark and obscuring, hiding the stars
behind it. So much so that, when astronomer William Herschel observed one such
cloud in the constellation of Scorpius in 1774, he thought it was a region
empty of stars and is said to have exclaimed, "Truly there is a hole in the
In order to better understand star formation, astronomers need telescopes
that can observe at longer wavelengths, such as the submillimetre range, in
which the dark dust grains shine rather than absorb light. APEX, on the
Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes, is the largest single-dish
submillimetre-wavelength telescope operating in the southern hemisphere, and is
ideal for astronomers studying the birth of stars in this way.
Located in the _constellation of Orion_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_(constellation)) (The Hunter), 1500 light-years away from Earth, the
_Orion Molecular Cloud Complex_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_Molecular_Cloud_Complex) is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth, and
contains a treasury of _bright nebulae_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebula) , dark clouds and young stars. The new image shows just part of this
vast complex in visible light, with the APEX observations overlaid in
brilliant orange tones that seem to set the dark clouds on fire. Often, the
glowing knots from APEX correspond to darker patches in visible light — the
tell-tale sign of a dense cloud of dust that absorbs visible light, but glows at
submillimetre wavelengths, and possibly a site of star formation.
The bright patch below of the centre of the image is the nebula _NGC 1999_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NGC_1999) . This region — when seen in
visible light — is what astronomers call a reflection nebula, where the pale blue
glow of background starlight is reflected from clouds of dust. The nebula
is mainly illuminated by the energetic radiation from the young star _V380
Orionis_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V380_Orionis) lurking at its heart.
In the centre of the nebula is a dark patch, which can be seen even more
clearly in a well-known image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
Normally, a dark patch such as this would indicate a dense cloud of cosmic
dust, obscuring the stars and nebula behind it. However, in this image we
can see that the patch remains strikingly dark, even when the APEX
observations are included. Thanks to these APEX observations, combined with
infrared observations from other telescopes, astronomers believe that the patch is
in fact a hole or cavity in the nebula, excavated by material flowing out
of the star V380 Orionis. For once, it truly is a hole in the sky!
The region in this image is located about two degrees south of the large
and well-known Orion Nebula (_Messier 42_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_Nebula) ), which can be seen at the top edge of the wider view in visible
light from the _Digitized Sky Survey_
Recent discoveries in vast _interstellar dust_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstellar_medium) clouds permeating the universe and in nebula have
revealed hints of organic matter that could be created naturally by stars,
according to researchers in a 2011 study at the _University of Hong Kong_
2841666667,114.137777778%20(University%20of%20Hong%20Kong)&t=h) . The
discovery team observed stars at different evolutionary phases and found that
they are able to produce complex _organic compounds_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_compound) and eject them into space, filling the voids
The compounds are so complex that their _chemical structures_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_structure) resemble the makeup of coal and
petroleum, the study's lead author, _Sun Kwok_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Kwok) of the University of Hong Kong, said. Kwok and his colleague Yong
Zhang, also of the University of Hong Kong, studied a set of well-known but
mysterious infrared emissions found in stars, interstellar space and
galaxies. These phenomena, which are collectively called Unidentified Infrared
Emission (UIE) features, have been known for 30 years, but the exact source of
the emissions has not been identified, and remains a broad assumption.
Such chemical complexity was thought to arise only from living organisms,
but the results of the new study show that these organic compounds can be
created in space even when no life forms are present. In fact, such complex
organics could be produced naturally by stars, and at an extremely rapid
"What impressed me most is that complex organics are easily formed by
stars, they are everywhere in our own galaxy and in other galaxies," Kwok told
Space.com. "Nature is much more clever than we had imagined."
"In the astronomy community, it has been commonly assumed that the UIE
features are emitted by (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, or _PAH_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycyclic_aromatic_hydrocarbon) ) molecules, which are
simple, purely aromatic, molecules made of carbon and hydrogen," Kwok said.
Their findings have overturned this assumption.
Kwok and Zhang analyzed data from the _European Space Agency_
0Space%20Agency)&t=h) 's _Infrared Space Observatory_
(http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=18) and NASA's _Spitzer Space
Telescope_ (http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/) to show that the Unidentified
Infrared Emission features are not emitted by PAH molecules because the emissions
have chemical structures that are far more complex.
"I have been suspecting this for many years," Kwok said. "Now we think we
have the evidence."
The researchers observed stars at different phases of stellar evolution —
first low- to medium-mass stars, then stars in the protoplanetary nebula
phase, which is a short-lived episode during a star's rapid evolution, and
finally stars in the planetary nebula phase, which is characterized by an
expanding shell of ionized gas that is ejected by certain types of stars late
in their life.
Kwok and his colleague found that characteristics of the Unidentified
Infrared Emission features could not be detected in low- to medium-mass stars.
But, the astronomers found that the emissions began to appear in stars in
the protoplanetary nebula stage and grew stronger as the stars matured into
the planetary nebula phase.
"Since we know their dynamical and evolutionary ages of these objects
(dynamical age is how fast the nebula will disperse, and evolutionary age is
how fast the star is evolving), we can put constraints on the chemical time
scales," Kwok said. "Since the dynamical/evolution ages are of the order of
thousands of years, the appearance of the spectral features suggests that
the organic compounds are made on time scales shorter than thousands of
"Their spectra changed from a pure gas spectrum to a dust spectrum on a
matter of days or weeks," Kwok added. "The sudden appearance of the features
suggests that organic dust can be made extremely quickly."
The image at the top of the page shows the long tail of interstellar dust
shines in the reflected light of stars in this view of a nebula in the
constellation Corona Australis (the southern crown). In some parts the dust
accumulates to form dense molecular clouds from which it is thought young
stars are born.
The Daily Galaxy via ESO, _nature.com_
(http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2011/10/www.nature.com) and _space.com_
Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI and David Malin.
(http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2013/01/milky-ways-gravity-creates-stars-from-its-satellite-the-large-magellanic-cloud-.html) _Milky Way's
Gravity Creates Stars from Its Satellite, the Large Magellanic Cloud_
(http://blogblooms.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/eso-setting-the-dark-birthplaces-of-new-stars-on-fire/) _ESO- Setting the Dark birthplaces of new stars on
Photo Captures Reflective Cloud in Orion Constellation_
(http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2013/01/astrobiologists-ask-did-life-first-appear-on-worlds-12-to13-billion-years-ago.html) _"Did Life First
Appear on Alien Worlds 12-13 Billion Years Ago?" --Ask Leading
_Richard Dawkins --"The Origin of Life in the Universe" (Today's Most
Posted: 12 Feb 2013 08:55 AM PST
"The universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple -just
physics and chemistry, just the scattered dust of the cosmic explosion that
gave birth to time and space. The fact that it did not -the fact that life
evolved out of literally nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe
evolved literally out of nothing -is a fact so staggering that I would be mad
to attempt words to do it justice. And even that is not the end of the
matter. Not only did evolution happen: it eventually led to beings capable of
comprehending the process by which they comprehend it."
_Richard Dawkins_ (http://richarddawkins.net/) -famed Oxford _evolutionary
biologist_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution) reflecting on the
sheer wonder of the emergence of life on Earth and the evolutionary process in
his classic _The Ancestor's Tale_
The Daily Galaxy
(http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2013/01/every-galaxy-has-counterparts-in-other-universes-.html) _"Every Galaxy has Counterparts in Other
Universes" --New Insights of Multiverse Theory_
(http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2012/12/advanced-et-civilizations-may-be-impossible-to-detect-holiday-weekend-feature.html) _Advanced ET
Civilizations May Be Impossible to Detect (Holiday Weekend Feature)_
Edens" ----Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins: 'Life Exists Elsewhere
in the Universe'_
May be the First Generation of Advanced Life in the Milky Way" (Today's
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