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No. 90: Nov-Dec 1993

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Lines Of Maser Spots

Masers work like lasers, except they radiate microwaves instead of visible light. Natural masers have been found in the atmospheres of both earth and Mars as well as in interstellar space. They form in space when electromagnetic radiation falls upon dense molecular clouds, which then reradiate the energy at frequencies characteristic of the molecules, Armed with radio telescopes, astronomers can "see" masers as bright spots ("maser spots") in the radio sky.

R. Norris and J. Whiteoak et al, at the Australia Telescope National Facility, while surveying just 16 regions of the Milky Way between 5,000 and 30,000 light years, detected a dozen intense methanol masers (6.7-12.2 gigahertz) arranged in lines. Early thinking is that these maser spots decorate the discs of gas clouds surrounding nascent stars. In other words, maser spots could be protoplanets. Given the small area of the sky sampled by Norris and Whiteoak, maser spots may be very common. (Dayton, Leigh; "Microwaves May Mark Position of Protoplanets," New Scientist, p. 16, July 10, 1993.)

Questions. Whence all this interstellar methanol? And where does it all go when the protoplanets coalesce into planets? Could these molecular clouds also contain those other organic compounds necessary for the creation and development of life? If so, we can speculate that life may originate often and repeatedly as stars and planets are born.

From Science Frontiers #90, NOV-DEC 1993. 1993-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987