Infrared Spectroscopy

Star Formation

Stars are formed in dense regions within interstellar clouds. Since infrared light can pentrate the thick molecular clouds where new stars are forming, we can learn about the regions which are collapsing to form new stars. Through infrared spectroscopy we can gain knowledge about the temperature and density of a collapsing region as well it's rate of collapse and velocity structure. We can also find out about the molecules present in the star forming region and what their abundance and distribution is.

Infrared spectra have been used to detect the presence of water ice, carbon dioxide, silicates and even crystals in dust around young stars. These observations have shown that elements which are common on Earth such as water and silicates exist in large quantities in protoplanetary disks (the disks from which planets form).

Infrared spectra showing the presence of water in the Orion nebula - a region of intense star formation.

To quote from an ESA press release on results from the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO):

"In the Orion nebula, where many new stars are being born, ISO detected enough water to fill the Earth's oceans 60 times a, day" said Alberto Salama, an ESA astronomer on the ISO team. "ISO has allowed us to prove that there's a true 'cycle' of water in the universe".

Spectra of a young star surrounded by a dense cloud showing the presence of water, carbon dioxide ice and silicates.

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