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Astronomy 2e

Figuring for Yourself

Astronomy 2eFiguring for Yourself

Figuring for Yourself


A molecular cloud is about 1000 times denser than the average of the interstellar medium. Let’s compare this difference in densities to something more familiar. Air has a density of about 1 kg/m3, so something 1000 times denser than air would have a density of about 1000 kg/m3. How does this compare to the typical density of water? Of granite? (You can find figures for these densities on the internet.) Is the density difference between a molecular cloud and the interstellar medium larger or smaller than the density difference between air and water or granite?


Would you expect to be able to detect an H II region in X-ray emission? Why or why not? (Hint: You might apply Wien’s law)


Suppose that you gathered a ball of interstellar gas that was equal to the size of Earth (a radius of about 6000 km). If this gas has a density of 1 hydrogen atom per cm3, typical of the interstellar medium, how would its mass compare to the mass of a bowling ball (5 or 6 kg)? How about if it had the typical density of the Local Bubble, about 0.01 atoms per cm3? The volume of a sphere is V = (4/3)πR3.


At the average density of the interstellar medium, 1 atom per cm3, how big a volume of material must be used to make a star with the mass of the Sun? What is the radius of a sphere this size? Express your answer in light-years.


Consider a grain of sand that contains 1 mg of oxygen (a typical amount for a medium-sized sand grain, since sand is mostly SiO2). How many oxygen atoms does the grain contain? What is the radius of the sphere you would have to spread them out over if you wanted them to have the same density as the interstellar medium, about 1 atom per cm3? You can look up the mass of an oxygen atom.


H II regions can exist only if there is a nearby star hot enough to ionize hydrogen. Hydrogen is ionized only by radiation with wavelengths shorter than 91.2 nm. What is the temperature of a star that emits its maximum energy at 91.2 nm? (Use Wien’s law from Radiation and Spectra.) Based on this result, what are the spectral types of those stars likely to provide enough energy to produce H II regions?


In the text, we said that the five-times ionized oxygen (OVI) seen in hot gas must have been produced by supernova shocks that heated the gas to millions of degrees, and not by starlight, the way H II is produced. Producing OVI by light requires wavelengths shorter than 10.9 nm. The hottest observed stars have surface temperatures of about 50,000 K. Could they produce OVI?


Dust was originally discovered because the stars in certain clusters seemed to be fainter than expected. Suppose a star is behind a cloud of dust that dims its brightness by a factor of 100. Suppose you do not realize the dust is there. How much in error will your distance estimate be? Can you think of any measurement you might make to detect the dust?


How would the density inside a cold cloud (T=10 K)(T=10 K) compare with the density of the ultra-hot interstellar gas (T=106 K)(T=106 K) if they were in pressure equilibrium? (It takes a large cloud to be able to shield its interior from heating so that it can be at such a low temperature.) (Hint: In pressure equilibrium, the two regions must have nT equal, where n is the number of particles per unit volume and T is the temperature.) Which region do you think is more suitable for the creation of new stars? Why?


The text says that the Local Fluff, which surrounds the Sun, has a temperature of 7500 K and a density 0.1 atom per cm3. The Local Fluff is embedded in hot gas with a temperature of 106 K and a density of about 0.01 atom per cm3. Are they in equilibrium? (Hint: In pressure equilibrium, the two regions must have nT equal, where n is the number of particles per unit volume and T is the temperature.) What is likely to happen to the Local Fluff?

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