Our galaxy is surrounded by a halo of old stars andhot gas that cannot cool to the state necessary for the formation of new stars. And yet, in the Orion belt, researchers discovered a cluster of relatively new stars - a mysterious, massive structure that was hidden in the spiral arm of the Milky Way. The star cluster is at least 120 million years old, and it is located at a distance of about 94,000 light years from our planet. The structure was discovered by analyzing data obtained by the Gaia spacecraft of the European Space Agency. The work was announced during a press conference of the Astronomical Astronomical Society on January 8, 2020.
What is a Radcliffe wave?
According to lead author of the study, JoaoAlves, the Sun is only 500 light years from the discovered structure. In the past, no one could have imagined that a wave-like gas flow passes through the plane of the Milky Way, which combines young stars and star-forming regions into a single whole. In addition, the structure, which was called the “Radcliffe wave” and which extends over a distance of 9 thousand light years, contains at least 800 million stars, as well as a large amount of dense, star-forming gas - the so-called “star cradle”. Researchers also report that this discovery completely changes the understanding of our galactic home, as the structure has been in front of us all this time - for millions of years - but only now we were able to clearly see it.
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Gaia spacecraft launched by Europeanin 2013, the space agency measured the distances of nearly 1 billion stars in our galaxy and, according to scientists, is a valuable, colossal database for detecting large-scale structures such as the Radcliffe wave. The data collected by the device on the number of young stars grouped together and moving in one direction allowed scientists from Harvard University to create a three-dimensional map of the interstellar matter of our galaxy and discover this massive structure. However, its wave-like shape, as well as the reasons for its formation, remain a mystery to astronomers.
Astronomers believe that the structure is simply notmanaged to form somewhere else, but how exactly it was formed where there is very little cold gas, which is needed to form a new generation of stars, is unknown. Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the Magellanic Clouds - the two galactic neighbors of the Milky Way. The cluster seems to accelerate in front of the gas stream that burst from these galaxies due to the gravitational attraction of the Milky Way. This allows specialists to assume that new stars are born due to the remnants of gas torn from these neighboring galaxies.
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Be that as it may, this is an amazing discovery inonce again proves how little we know not only about the Universe, but also about our galactic home. Looking at familiar things from a new angle, as you know, helps to significantly expand the boundaries of a seemingly familiar world. Most likely, in the future we still have a lot to learn about the Radcliffe wave and the reasons for its appearance. The text of the study can be found on the pages of the scientific journal Nature.