Significance Of The Interstellar Medium
Neutral hydrogen atoms in the interstellar medium emit radio waves at a wavelength of 8 in (21 cm). Studies of this 8 in (21 cm) emission are not just important for studying the interstellar medium. Mapping the distribution of this interstellar hydrogen has revealed to us the spiral structure of the Milky Way galaxy.
The interstellar medium is intimately intertwined with the stars. Stars are formed from the collapse of gas and dust in molecular clouds. The leftover gas around newly formed massive stars forms the HII regions. At various times stars return material to the interstellar medium. This recycling can be gentle in the form of stellar winds, or it can be as violent as a supernova explosion. The supernovas are a particularly important form of recycling in the interstellar medium. The material recycled by supernovas is enriched in heavy elements produced by nuclear fusion in the star and in the supernova itself. With time the amount of heavy elements in the composition of the interstellar medium and of stars formed from the interstellar medium slowly increases. The interstellar medium therefore plays an important role in the chemical evolution of the galaxy.
See also Stellar evolution.
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Paul A. Heckert
Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Incomplete dominance to IntuitionismInterstellar Matter - Components of the interstellar medium, Significance of the interstellar medium