The birth of stars and planets
Which molecules are found in the space where new stars and planets form? And how exactly do these celestial bodies form? Ewine van Dishoeck uses the most powerful telescopes in the world, in locations such as the mountains of Chili and Hawaii, to study this. These telescopes can detect the radiation of molecules in gas clouds. Van Dishoeck and her colleagues use these ‘fingerprints’ to determine which molecules are present in the gas clouds and how likely it is that a star or planet will form there.
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The hunt for water
14 May 2009 is a date that Ewine van Dishoeck will never forget. It is the day when the Herschel Satellite was launched with the mission: seek water! She was involved in the preparations for decades, before everything suddenly speeded up. Herschel did find an excess of water in space in 2010.
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The space laboratory
For Ewine van Dishoeck, space is an exotic laboratory, because thin gas clouds in the cosmos contain molecules that are not present on earth and that could never become part of our daily lives. As regards the molecules that are commonplace for us, such as water, the question is how they could have developed in that thin space: how can hydrogen and oxygen atoms ever find each other in all that empty space?
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Without state-of-the-art telescopes, it would be impossible for astronomers to conduct further research. This also applies for Ewine van Dishoeck and her colleagues, if they wish to study the formation of new galaxies in thin clouds. ‘Ten years ago, telescopes could look into the middle of a cloud, but you can now zoom in with a factor of ten to a hundred. I often compare viewing such a cloud to an aerial photo of a city. First we saw the city as a big patch with a few roofs and now we can see the market stalls.’
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