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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