THE PILLARS OF CREATION
Giant Molecular Clouds, Star Formation, and Cosmic Recycling
Star formation is a staggeringly complex process, but much is now known about how new stars are created within the cores of giant molecular clouds (GMCs). First observed with radio telescopes in the 1960's, GMCs cover vast regions of space and may contain millions of solar masses worth of gas and dust. They are the largest recognizable entities within our galaxy, the coldest regions between the stars, and the metaphorical "pillars of creation".
GMCs are the stellar nurseries of our galaxy, but the birth of a star does not end the process. Stars evolve and eventually die, and through their dramatic death throes they change the very structure and chemical makeup of their environment. Indeed, a great recycling process is at play, and we owe our very existence to its machinations. Star formation, stellar evolution, the interstellar medium, giant molecular clouds, planets and supernovae - all are intimately intereconnected. And these interconnections have primed the universe for the emergency of life.
This book introduces the basic tools and methods by which astronomers have gained an understanding of stars, the star formation process, and the intricate workings of the interstellar medium. It also looks deep into the future of star formation, to a time when the universe will have changed beyond all recognition.
Table of Contents
1. Reading the Sky
2. In the Eye of the Beholder
3. The Dark Clouds Revealed
4. The Hyperfine Split and Atomic Jitters
5. In the Grip of Gravity
6. It's a Far Flung Life
Appendix The Magnitude Scale and Interstellar Extinction
269 pages, Black and white/colour images integrated with text
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