I had just settled for the night. It's hard to remind oneself that in this forever blackness of space the Human mind is still dependent on cycles of day and night. There are those people that keep asking what the must-haves for an exploration vessel are. Some say heat sinks are a must-have, some say auto-maintenance units. I highly recommend buying an alarm clock in one of those 'Shepard’s Famous Shops' in any space station, one that shows you it’s three o’clock in the afternoon or two o'clock in the morning. Time for a nap. It helps not getting mad.
I was still within the boundaries of the Vela, the constellation of the Sail. The Orion Spur Shallows lay behind me (for which I was very thankful) and I was eager to find out what was out here. The galactic south - I had found out on many occasions - always held some wonders in store. In ancient times there was just the big Argo Navis constellation in this part of the Milky Way. It was also one of the most important ones, because all ocean-sailing navigation techniques depended on some of the Navis' brightest stars. But when cataloguing the heavens became more and more sophisticated astronomers of old split the ancient Navis into the three constellations we know today:Carina (The Keel), Puppis (The Stern Deck) and Vela (The Sail).
So I was dreaming of credits and sails when the autolab raised an alarm and woke me up again. I had left the ship 'on auto' and prepared some simple analyses and statistical comparisons before I wanted to set off again. There were also some issues with copying the newly acquired exploration data so I took an extra day just to be sure.
After completing all its analyses the autolab confirmed what I already had in my guts. Experienced explorers always have something in their guts. They just need scientific methods to tell them what it is. Here there was an increase of interstellar medium density by 1,736% with an increase alone in metals by 6,104%. Most of the time, you have 0.1 to 10 atoms of 'stuff' per cm³ in interstellar space.
And metals? Well, 'metals' in astronomy just means anything but hydrogen and helium and a significant increase in metals shows you that you have entered a region where many stars exploded in the past, blowing their heavy elements in jets and clouds into space. Parts of the region were so dense that not even thermic infrared radiation could penetrate the dust layers. Everything lying within these dark molecular structures was subject to speculation. There are theories, however, that propose a stellar nursery of sorts. Where the material density within the cloud increases beyond a certain threshold these dust 'cores' begin to collapse under their own gravity, forming protostars eventually. These protostars (T Tauri stars mostly) then accrete the rest of the dust cloud making it more and more translucent. I ran an infrared imagery and was relieved to see this theory underlined by a group of T Tauri stars within and on the border of the dust cloud.
It was worth being disturbed in one’s sleep. Additional astrometric checks and the first incoming results from spectroscopic scans were encouraging. There were some rather dense groups of young and hot stars within what must once have been a planetary nebula, now nearly extinct. All in all the Molecular Cloud was estimated to be at least 800 LY across and some 150 LY deep. Quite a thing. So I created a data set and named it the 'Vela Ultima Cloud Complex'. There was plenty of time to study it a bit further...
... but first there was a nap to take. My alarm clock showed 04:37 a.m.
So I programmed the autolab on coffee at 09:30 and unfolded the bunk again.
Time to 'nap on'.