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No. 52: Jul-Aug 1987

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We know that immense molecular clouds drift through interstellar space, but a new denizen has now made itself known through its ability to diffract quasar radio signals. Although constituted only of ionized gases, these new objects are called "compact structures."

"'Compact means that these objects are about as big as the earth's orbit around the sun, and therefore larger than all but the biggest stars. They are, however, much smaller than the clouds that previous observations have detected in interstellar space. They reveal their presence by diffracting the radio waves coming from distant quasars.

"The objects move too fast to be near the quasar -- to be that far away, they would have to go at 500 times the speed of light -- so the observers conclude that they are in our own galaxy. Previous observers didn't see them, [R.L.] Fiedler says, because they didn't observe the same quasar at close enough intervals."

If these ionized clouds are spherical. they have masses comparable to the asteroids; but, if they are elongated, their mass is anyone's guess. No one knows how they are formed, how long they last, or where the energy comes from to maintain them in an ionized state. Extrapolating from the five instances recorded so far, the observers speculate that these compact structures may be 500-1000 times more numerous than stars! (Thomsen, D.E.; "Oodles of 'Noodles' Found in Galaxy," Science News, 131: 247, 1987.)

From Science Frontiers #52, JUL-AUG 1987. � 1987-2000 William R. Corliss