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The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.

ExploraTour: A Peek into the Lives of the Stars


Click on image for full size
Prof. Robert Walker, McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences, Washington University, St. Louis, MO

Where are Stars Born?

New stars are formed in vast clouds of gas and dust that occupy the space between stars.

If you're picturing a dense fog cloud, think again. Typically in a cloud with 1 gas atom per cubic centimeter, you would have to search long and hard to find a single dust grain in a volume of space the length of a football field on each side (about 10's-100 meters). And then the dust grain is only about 1/1000 of a mm across. About 4000 dust grains could fit across a sucker stick.

Not very impressive until you add up all the dust grains in the cloud that can cover tens of light years in space. A cloud extending over 1 light year on a side contains about 8 million trillion trillion trillion trillion dust grains.

The interstellar dust grain on the left, which researchers have named Florianus, was collected by a high-flying airplane in our own atmosphere.

These dust grains absorb visible light so strongly that we cannot see into the dust cloud. Infrared light can penetrate through the cloud though, giving us a glimpse of the stars being born deep within its inner regions.


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In recent years astronomers have become able to detect "starspots" on distant stars! Like the sunspots that frequently dot the "surface" of the nearest star, our Sun, starspots are relatively cool, dark...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Even though the sleeping man is no longer on the bed, you can still see where he was lying down. The heat from his body warmed up the bed sheets which are now radiating infrared light toward your eyes....more

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All warm objects radiate in the infrared. The warmer the object, the higher the frequency and intensity of the radiation. Very hot objects give off other types of radiation in addition to infrared. Click...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Your eye is a wonderful detector of visible light. Different frequencies of light produce different sensations in the eye which we interpret as colors. Our eyes detect light by using light sensitive components...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

Imagine you found a pair of special glasses that not only gave you telescopic vision but gave you the ability to see all forms of radiant energy. The universe in visible light contains all the familiar...more

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA