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Compact Cosmos

5 4 DEEPSPACE twixt starbursts and galaxies Surprisingly,the vacuum of space,emptier by far than the best made in laboratories,still has an intriguing population. Inside galaxies,in the gaps between stars,we find the interstellar medium,a thin mix of gas and dust. Made up mostly of primordial hydrogen and helium left over from the very earliest times,we find here on average one atom per cubic centimeter clumped into cool, filamentary clouds surrounded by sparser but warmer regions. Other heavier atoms are present in much smaller quantities, drifting leftovers from previous generations of stars. Combining into simple molecules such as ammonia,water,or carbon monoxide, and more complex ones like alcohol, giant molecular clouds can evolve into stellar nurseries. Such clouds may have over a thousand molecules per cubic centimeter, increasing up to a million times more in their denser starbirth regions. The vast expanses between galaxies also have the odd atom of hydrogen floating about,a few for every cubic meter of space. Even in this intergalactic mediumthere are sparse traces of heavier elements,roughly one for every million hydrogen atoms. Explosive starburst activity and galactic collisions are believed to have thrown these lonely wanderers out into deepest space. Though a long way from anything else, these atoms are a torrid bunch, spitting out high energy xrays with temperatures that can reach several million degrees.
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