Astronomers find a giant and mysterious cavity in space and some answers they were looking for

New Delhi: Astronomers from the Center for Astrophysics (CfA), Harvard and the Smithsonian Institution recently discovered a huge cavity in space, which they say could have been created by ancient supernovae that occurred around 10 million years ago.

Astronomers discovered the giant void by studying 3D maps of nearby molecular clouds, which are areas of space where star formation occurs. These regions are also called stellar nurseries.

The study was recently published in the astrophysical journal Letters.

What’s new in the find?

Astronomers have discovered that the cavity is sphere-shaped and has a diameter of 156 parsecs, or about 500 light years. The mysterious cavity is located among the constellations of Perseus and Taurus, according to a statement released by CfA.

Astronomers have discovered that the molecular clouds of Perseus and Taurus surround the cavity, suggesting star formation in this region.

The researchers used 3D dust mapping techniques to understand how star formation occurs in molecular clouds, which are created from the diffuse interstellar medium (ISM). They used the highest resolution 3D dust map to date to analyze Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds.

Many stars are forming and already exist on the surface of the giant bubble, Shmuel Bialy, one of the study’s researchers, said in the CfA statement.

Bialy said they had two theories of how star formation could have happened in the bubble. According to one theory, a supernova may have triggered in the heart of the cavity and pushed the gas outward, causing the bubble to form, called the “Perseus-Taurus Supershell”. The other theory says that the bubble could have been created by a series of supernovae occurring over millions of years.

Astronomers also found a large ring structure at the location of Taurus, known as the Tau Ring.

ALSO READ: How are stars born? Astronomers 3D print stellar nurseries to show complicated process

Why results matter

Although molecular clouds are known to give birth to young stars, how these clouds form has always been a mystery.

The discovery of the supercell suggests that the death of a star causes a supernova explosion, which ultimately generates a series of events that lead to the formation of new stars, astronomers explain.

The molecular clouds of Perseus and Taurus formed together from the same supernova shock wave and were not independent structures in space, the study suggests.

The researchers explain in the study that previous stellar feedback and supernova events could have created a large expanding shell. Indeed, the diffuse interstellar medium has condensed to form both the cavity and the surrounding molecular clouds, the researchers believe. Subsequently, star formation was triggered by the supernova’s feedback events.

How molecular clouds were studied

The data was obtained from Gaia, a space observatory of the European Space Agency, and used to create 3D maps of the cavity and surrounding molecular clouds. A data visualization software named Glue was used to create the 3D maps.

In a study published in the journal The Astrophysical, the analysis of these stellar nurseries was described. A technique, known as dust reconstruction, developed by the Max Planck Institute of Astrophysics in Germany, was used to develop the 3D maps.

This is the first time that molecular clouds have been represented in 3D. Catherine Zucker, one of the researchers in the second study, explains that the 3D maps help determine the exact shape, size, depth or thickness of molecular clouds and the distances between them, which could not be deciphered with the previous maps which were 2D, according to a press release from the CfA.

In addition, the location of stellar nurseries and the void between them can now be discerned with only one percent of uncertainty, she added.

She also explains that the maps allow real-life 3D views to compare different theories that determine how star formation occurs from the rearrangement of gas.

The universe in augmented reality

The discovery of the void marks the first time that astronomical visualizations have been published in journals of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Augmented Reality (AR) – an interactive experience of the real-world environment by enhancing the ‘real life objects with the addition of visual elements, sounds or sensory stimuli. The Perseus-Taurus Supershell and surrounding molecular clouds can be visualized by using a smartphone to scan a QR code in the paper.

Alyssa Goodman, co-author of the two studies, says future science papers must incorporate improved audio, video, and visuals to make research more interesting to scientists as well as the public. She added that 3D visualizations can provide a better understanding of the powerful effects of supernovae.

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