Sunday, April 09, 2006


Astronomers find alcohol cloud 288 billion miles wide

Astronomers based at Jodrell Bank Observatory have discovered a giant bridge of methyl alcohol, spanning approximately 288 billion miles, wrapped around a stellar nursery. The gas cloud could help our understanding of how the most massive stars in our galaxy are formed.

The new observations were taken with the UK's MERLIN radio telescope which have recently been upgraded. The team studied an area called W3(OH), a region in our galaxy where stars are being formed by the gravitational collapse of a cloud of gas and dust. The observations have revealed giant filaments of gas that are emitting as 'masers' (molecules in the gas are amplifying and emitting beams of microwave radiation.

Our discovery is very interesting because it challenges some long-accepted views held in astronomical maser research. Until we found these filaments, we thought of masers as point-like objects or very small bright hotspots surrounded by halos of fainter emission,” said Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith, who is the Principal Investigator for the study and is presenting results at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting on 4th April.

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