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Winter Milky Way II

February 16, 2012

Compared to the noise and chaos of downtown, the suburbs are supposed to be quiet and sedate — places where not much happens. Here in the Milky Way galaxy, though, that’s not quite the case. There’s plenty of activity in the ’burbs — regions that are giving birth to new stars, including some of the biggest and heaviest in the galaxy.

You can see deep into the galactic suburbs on February evenings. Look for the V-shaped face of Taurus, the bull, which is high in the sky in early evening. The bull’s horns spread out to the east. The star at the tip of one of the horns is quite near the point that’s directly opposite the center of the Milky Way — the galactic anticenter. When we look that way, we’re looking toward the thinly settled regions of the outer galaxy.

The constellations Auriga and Gemini wrap around that point in the sky. They contain vast clouds of gas and dust that are giving birth to new stars. The young stars include several members of classes O and B — the hottest and heaviest of all stars. These stars will live the shortest lives, too — only a fraction as long as the Sun will live. And when they die, many will go out with titanic explosions known as supernovae.

In fact, those clouds contain the remains of a few stars that have exploded within the last couple of million years or so — violent deaths that have helped liven up the galactic suburbs.

We’ll have more about the Milky Way tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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