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Stardust Puzzle Could Be Solved By New Interstellar Maps

Update Date: Aug 17, 2014 12:27 AM EDT

Researchers have created a new map of the materials located between the stars in Milky Way that can help solve the puzzle about stardust, according to a new study.

Researchers say their work demonstrates a new method of uncovering the location - and ultimately, the composition of the material found in the vast expanse between star systems in a galaxy. 

The expanse is known as the interstellar medium. The material located in this medium includes dust and gas made up of atoms and molecules that remain following the death of a star. The expanse also supplies the building blocks for new stars and planets.

"There's an old saying that 'We are all stardust,' since all chemical elements heavier than helium are produced in stars," Johns Hopkins professor of physics and astronomy Rosemary Wyse explained in a press release. "But we still don't know why stars form where they do. This study is giving us new clues about the interstellar medium out of which the stars form."

Researchers mainly focused on a mysterious feature in the light emanated by stars known as diffuse interstellar bands (DIBs). 

"In a completely new approach to understanding DIBs, we combined information from nearly 500,000 stellar spectra obtained by the massive spectroscopic survey RAVE (Radial Velocity Experiment) to produce the first pseudo-three-dimensional map of the strength of the DIB at 8620 angstroms covering the nearest 3 kiloparsecs from the Sun," the authors wrote. 

Researchers found that the DIB 8620 carrier has a "a significantly larger vertical scale height" than the dust.

Researchers hope the new pseudo-3D maps could help solve this mystery. The maps were created by a team of 23 scientists who reviewed data on 500,000 stars collected by RAVE over a 10-year period.

The study is published in the journal Science

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