Orion -- Molecular Hydrogen

Can you see the similarities between the ring-like structure at the top of this image and that in the infrared image? (Click the back arrow button Left Arrowto see the infrared image of Orion.) Can you find the Orion Nebula in this image?

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Molecules toward Orion

Currently, we know of over 110 different molecules in space. Many of them are familiar to us all (water, ammonia, carbon monoxide, alcohol) but others are so strange they can only be found in space. The study of molecules in the near vacuum of space has altered some of our ideas on chemistry. 

This false color image was created by a radio telescope that measured the properties of molecules in the interstellar medium. The red colors in the image represent where there is a lot of molecules. The white area to the upper left indicates where no one has yet looked for molecules.

If you compare this image with the infrared image you will notice many similarities. Since molecules will only form when there is enough dust to protect them from destructive starlight, one expects similarities between the two images.

Star formation only occurs in regions where there is a high density of gas and dust. Thus, the regions that are red in this image are where stars are currently forming. Studying molecules is important in our study of how stars form.

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Ronald J. Maddalena 1998