An international team of 23 scientists, has created maps (using data from 500,000 stars over a ten year period) of space materials located between the stars of the Milky Way. This material includes atoms and molecules left behind when a star dies, as well as building blocks for new stars and planets. The results published in the Aug. 15, 2014 issue of the journal Science may help astronomers solve a stardust puzzle that was first seen in 1922 in a graduate student's photographs of distant stars.
The research team focused on a strange feature in the light from stars; diffuse interstellar bands or "DIBs" (i.e., dark lines in the grad student's photographs). These visual and near-infrared spectra absorption lines seemed to show missing starlight as if something in the interstellar medium between Earth and the star was sucking up (not a technical term) the light. In fact, scientists have spotted more than 400 interstellar bands, but why the bands appear and their exact location are a mystery.
Rosemary Wyse, a Johns Hopkins professor of physics and astronomy who played a major role in the research reports, "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."
Finding the cause will allow researchers to better understand the physical conditions and chemistry of the space between stars and more on how stars and galaxies form. Go science!