Clouds: Searching the Galaxy Using Herschel
When drawing bubbles on the Milky Way Project (MWP) you’re looking at data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which observes infrared light of various wavelengths from about 3 to 100 microns. Spitzer looks at warm and hot dust, as described above, and shows us where stars are forming and heating up their surroundings.
Now we have a new interface online: Clouds. When you look at clouds in our new game you’re seeing data from the Herschel Space Observatory, placed on top of Spitzer data. Herschel sees longer wavelengths than Spitzer and this means that it can detect colder material. Not long after Spitzer first began delivering science, it was noticed that there were lots of dark clouds visible in the data. These were thought to be dense, cold cores of material within the larger nebulae, where stars were still forming. Many of these Infrared Dark Clouds (IRDCs) are thought to house massive, young stars and may hold answers to some of the biggest questions in astronomy right now, such as how to massive stars form?
When Herschel went into operation, these IRDCs were amongst the first objects to be observed and astronomers were immediately struck by an unexpected fact: lots of these IRDCs were not dense cores at all: they were simply ‘holes’ in the sky – including this striking example in Orion. Rather than looking into the dense core where stars were forming, Herschel actually began to reveal palces where one can see right through the Galaxy and out to the other side.
Doing this with computers is not accurate enough, and so to get a true catalogue of IRDCs, we’re asking volunteers to help by trying to identify them here on the Milky Way Project. If you see a bright glowing cloud then it is a true IRDC – if you see nothing, then it is a hole in the sky. Sometimes it is actually quite difficult to make out – but that’s okay, we’ll get lots of people to look at each core and take a vote.
Clouds launches today and we hope to get lots of eyes on the problem right away: visit http://www.milkywayproject.org and check it out.