Feeds

Astronomers spy 288bn mile cloud of alcohol

Make mine a double

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Astronomers at the UK's Jodrell Bank Observatory have discovered what is surely the strongest argument to date in favour of ploughing huge resources into space exploration: a giant "bridge" of methyl alcohol spanning around 288bn miles, within which is nestled a stellar nursery.

The booze cloud was spotted using the UK's MERLIN radio telescopes in an area of our own galaxy rather uninspiringly called W3(OH). According to the Royal Astronomical Society blurb, this is a region where "stars are being formed by the gravitational collapse of a cloud of gas and dust".

The area is also a hotbed of "maser" activity - "clumps of interstellar gas in which radio waves are amplified many thousands of times, due to the molecular gases being excited by infra-red radiation from the nearby young stars", according to principal investigator Lisa Harvey-Smith, nicely dubbed "Radio Astronomer to the Stars" - and several maser spots had already been observed in W3(OH).

However, the new data shows filaments of masing gas bridging the space between said maser spots. The largest, as noted above, is a whopping 463bn kilometres, for those of you who like your measures in metric, and appears to be "rotating as a disc around a central star, in a similar manner to the accretion discs in which planets form around young stars".

The discovery is important because, as Dr Harvey-Smith put it: "There are still many unanswered questions about the birth of massive stars because the formation centres are shrouded by dust. The only radiation that can escape is at radio wavelengths and the upgraded MERLIN network is now giving us the first opportunity to look deep into these star forming regions and see what's really going on."

Sadly, methyl alcohol is not currently suitable for human consumption, although we have no doubt that by the time mankind develops the technology necessary to reach W3(OH) it will also have evolved the capacity to successfully metabolise this molecule. In which case, last person to the masing gas bridge stumps up for the first round. See you there. ®

More on MERLIN

MERLIN is the UK's radio imaging facility and is run on behalf of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council by the University of Manchester. MERLIN is undergoing an £8m upgrade involving the installation of a 600km dark fibre network and new broadband electronics; the new facility, e-MERLIN, is expected to be complete in 2008.

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.