Frigid Cloud in Deep Space Gets Its Temperature Taken
Left: optical image of the CB244 globule region showing background stars and the cold, dense globule material in the centre. Right: dust temperature and column density of the CB244 cold, dense material based on the Herschel emission maps. Object 1 is a young stellar object and object 2 is a prestellar core that is likely to form a star.
Credit: ESA/EPOS Consortium

An interstellar cloud of gas and dust in deep space has had its temperature completely mapped across all regions ? a cosmic first ? allowing scientists to pinpoint exactly where baby stars are being born.

The European Space Agency's Herschel telescope took the temperature of the cloud, called CB244,from its center to the edge, revealing two hotspots of star-formation inside.

"We cannot measure these temperatures from the ground," said Amelia Stutz of the Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. "That's because the atmosphere blocks these wavelengths, but Herschel is poised perfectly in space and designed to investigate these coldest regions of the universe."

One of the star cradles inside the cloud has a temperature of minus 427 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 255 degrees Celsius), and Herschel was able to pinpoint a nascent star. The young star contains 1.6 times the mass of the sun.

The other region, which has a temperature of minus 440 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 262 degrees Celsius), is so young that a star has yet to even form. Instead, there is just a collapsing core of gas and dust that will eventually become a hot star. This collapsing region contains between three and seven times the sun's mass.

This new temperature map also allowed astronomers to calculate the amount of matter inside the star-forming cloud.

Overall, astronomers calculated that the cloud is between 10 and 20 times the sun's mass, which means that almost half of its total mass is involved in forming the two stars.

Herschel's observations also showed that the cloud's temperature rises toward the outer edges, which reveals that the light from the surrounding stars is heating up the cloud's outer faces.

Herschel, built by ESA, launched in May 2009 on a mission to scan the universe in the far-infrared range of the spectrum.