NASA plans to probe the seemingly empty space that lies between stars via its new CHESS mission, helping researchers understand the earliest parts of a star’s slow formation. CHESS, in this case, is short for Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph, a special payload that will be sent into space on the suborbital sounding rocket called Black Brant IX. The launch will take place next week.
The CHESS mission ultimately aims to investigate the space between stars; though it appears empty to the naked eye, NASA assures us that is isn’t, saying instead that it is home to charged plasma particles, neutral molecules and atoms, and more. Scientists call these clouds of particles, atoms and molecules the ‘interstellar medium,’ and they float around in reservoirs that researchers want to explore.
Studying these molecules and atoms involves using the CHESS tool to measure the light making its way through them. As the light passes through the interstellar medium, CHESS is able to gather vital details that shed light on the very early stages of star life. The substance is the by-product of huge stars exploding; the universe uses this raw product of dead stars to form brand new stars.
The interstellar medium can be found all over space, but NASA has set its sights on one place in particular: the Beta Scorpii star located in the Scorpius constellation. CHESS will analyze the substance that exists between our solar system and this distant, bright star, specially looking for how the components that exist between — that is, the particles, atoms and molecules — affect light passing through.
Ultimately, this data will tell researchers a lot about the interstellar medium, including things like how fast the particles are moving and their current temperature. The data may also help shed light on the current mystery of how long it takes these clouds of raw components to form stars.