December 1998 • 1998ApJ...508..721C
Abstract • The SPIRIT III infrared telescope on the Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) satellite has provided an unprecedented view of the mid-infrared emission (8-25 μm) of the Galactic plane. An initial analysis of images from MSX Galactic plane survey data reveals dark clouds seen in silhouette against the bright emission from the Galactic plane (Egan et al.). These clouds have mid-infrared extinctions in excess of 2 mag at 8 μm. We probed the physical properties of 10 of these MSX dark clouds using millimeter-wave molecular rotational lines as an indicator of dense molecular gas. All 10 clouds were detected in millimeter spectral lines of H2CO, which confirms the presence of dense gas. The distances to these clouds range from 1 to 8 kiloparsecs and their diameters from 0.4 to 15.0 pc. Excitation analysis of the observed lines indicates that the clouds are cold (T < 20 K) and dense [n(H2) > 105 cm-3]. Some of the clouds have nearby H II regions, H2O masers, and other tracers of star formation at comparable spectral line velocities; however, only one cloud contains embedded centimeter or infrared sources. The lack of mid- to far-infrared emission associated with these clouds suggests that they are not currently forming high-mass stars. If star formation is present in these clouds, it is clearly protostellar class 0 or earlier.