Today we’re reading about some very cool (literally!) results just released in The Astrophysical Journal by a team of astronomers from the University of New South Wales.

Using the HEAT telescope in Antarctica, along with our Mopra telescope, a team of researchers has identified a giant gas cloud which appears to be in an early stage of formation. The newly discovered gas cloud is about 200 light years long and ten light years across, with a mass about 50,000 times that of our Sun.

The High Elevation Antarctic Terahertz, or HEAT, telescope is located at Ridge A in Antarctica, and maps the location of giant gas clouds – the most massive objects in the galaxy – based on the carbon they contain.

The results combined data from three separate surveys – atomic carbon detected by HEAT, carbon monoxide emission data taken with our Mopra telescope and the Mopra Galactic Plane CO Survey, as well as archival data taken with our Parkes and ATCA telescopes from the Southern Galactic Plane Survey.

A UNSW-led team has used a telescope in Antarctica to identify a giant gas cloud in our galaxy which appears to be in an early stage of formation. This image shows the PLATO-R observatory at Ridge A. The HEAT telescope is the black object on stilts at left, the instrument module is the yellow box and the solar panel array is on the right. Credit: Image: Geoff Sims

The giant gas clouds are not only the most massive objects in the galaxy, but they are also the birthplace of stars. With the discovery of a new galactic cloud – about 15,000 light years from Earth – the researchers may be able to determine how the clouds develop in the interstellar medium and solve a major mystery of galactic astronomy.

About one star per year, on average, is formed in the Milky Way, and the formation of these giant gas clouds plays a key role in the cosmic ‘circle of life’.

To find out more, check out the HEAT project website, or read the paper in The Astrophysical Journal.

CSIRO Mopra telescope in NSW. To map the gas giants, the HEAT telescope detects atomic carbon while our Mopra telescope detects carbon monoxide. Credit: CSIRO.