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ExploraTour: A Peek into the Lives of the Stars


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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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Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games section of our online store includes a climate change card game and the Traveling Nitrogen game!

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Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

The Sun's Magnetic Field

The Sun has a very large and very complex magnetic field. The magnetic field at an average place on the Sun is around 1 Gauss, about twice as strong as the average field on the surface of Earth (around...more

Starspots

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

ExploraTour - Looking at the World in a Different Light

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

This is a volcano on the island of Miyake in Japan. It has erupted, sending hot lava and ash into the air, a total of ten times. The time after one eruption until the next occurred was about twenty years...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF