Harvard Astronomy 201b

Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

CHAPTER: How do we know there is an ISM?

In Book Chapter on January 29, 2013 at 8:35 pm

(updated for 2013)

Early astronomers pointed to 3 lines of evidence for the ISM:

  • Extinction. The ISM obscures the light from background stars. In 1919, Barnard (JC 2011, 2013) called attention to these “dark markings” on the sky, and put forward the (correct) hypothesis that these were the silhouettes of dark clouds. A good rule of thumb for the amount of extinction present is 1 magnitude of extinction per kpc (for typical, mostly unobscured lines-of-sight).
  • Reddening. Even when the ISM doesn’t completely block background starlight, it scatters it. Shorter-wavelength light is preferentially scattered, so stars behind obscuring material appear redder than normal. If a star’s true color is known, its observed color can be used to infer the column density of the ISM between us and the star. Robert Trumpler first used measurements of the apparent “cuspiness” and the brighnesses of star clusters in 1930 to argue for the presence of this effect. Reddening of stars of “known” color is the basis of NICER and related techniques used to map extinction today.
  • Stationary Lines. Spectral observations of binary stars show doppler-shifted lines corresponding to the radial velocity of each star. In addition, some of these spectra exhibit stationary (i.e. not doppler-shifted) absorption lines due to stationary material between us and the binary system. Johannes Hartmann first noticed this in 1904 when investigating the spectrum of \delta Orionis: “The calcium line at \lambda 3934 [angstroms] exhibits a very peculiar behavior. It is distinguished from all the other lines in this spectrum, first by the fact that it always appears extraordinarily week, but almost perfictly sharp… Closer study on this point now led me to the quite surprising result that the calcium line… does not share in the periodic displacements of the lines caused by the orbital motion of the star”

Helpful References: Good discussion of the history of extinction and reddening, from Michael Richmond.

CHAPTER: Density of the Intergalactic Medium

In Book Chapter on January 14, 2013 at 8:50 pm

(updated for 2013)

From cosmology observations, we know the universe to be very nearly flat (\Omega = 1). This implies that the mean density of the universe is \rho = \rho_{\rm crit} = \frac{3 H_0^2}{8 \pi G} = 7 \times 10^{-30} ~{\rm g~ cm}^{-3} \Rightarrow n<4.3 \times 10^{-6}~{\rm cm}^{-3}.

This places an upper limit on the density of the Intergalactic Medium.

CHAPTER: Density of the Milky Way’s ISM

In Book Chapter on January 14, 2013 at 8:46 pm

(updated for 2013)

How do we know that n \sim 1 ~{\rm cm}^{-3} in the ISM? From the rotation curve of the Milky Way (and some assumptions about the mass ratio of gas to gas+stars+dark matter), we can infer

M_{\rm gas} = 6.7 \times 10^{9} M_\odot

Maps of HI and CO reveal the extent of our galaxy to be

D = 40 kpc

h = 140 pc (scale height of HI)

This applies an approximate volume of

V = \pi D^2 h / 4 = 5 \times 10^{66} ~{\rm cm}^{3}

Which, yields a density of

\rho = 2.5 \times 10^{-24} ~{\rm g cm}^{-3}

CHAPTER: A Sense of Scale

In Book Chapter on January 13, 2013 at 8:40 pm

(updated for 2013)


How dense (or not) is the ISM?

  • Dense cores: n \sim 10^5 ~{\rm cm}^{-3}
  • Typical ISM: n \sim 1 ~{\rm cm}^{-3}
  • This room: 1 mol / 22.4L \sim 3 \times 10^{19}~ {\rm cm}^{-3}
  • XVH (eXtremely High Vacuum) — best human-made vacuum: n \sim 3 \times 10^{4}~ {\rm cm}^{-3}
  • Density of stars in the Milky Way: 2.8~{\rm stars/pc}^3 \approx 0.125~M_\odot/{\rm pc}^3 = 8.5 \times 10^{-24} ~{\rm g / cm}^3 \sim 5~{\rm cm}^{-3}

In other words, most of the ISM is at a density far below the densities and pressures we can reproduce in the lab. Thus, the details of most of the microphysics in the ISM are still poorly understood. We also see that the density of stars in the Galaxy is quite small – only a few times the average particle density of the ISM.

See also the interstellar cloud properties table and conversions between angular and linear scale.