New Milky Way map reveals huge wave of stellar nurseries

Katie Ramirez
January 9, 2020

The information offered by the Gaia satellite has allowed researchers to craft the most accurate 3D map of the Milky Way to date.

Spanning about 9,000 light-years (or about 9% of the galaxy's diameter), the unbroken wave of stars begins near Orion in a trough about 500 light-years below the Milky Way's disk. Numerous stellar nurseries found within Gould's Belt are present within this wave.

Nobody expected "we live next to a enormous, wave-like collection of gas - or that it forms the local arm of the Milky Way", said Alyssa Goodman of Harvard in a statement.

"We were completely shocked when we first realised how long and straight the Radcliffe Wave is, looking down on it from above in 3D - but how sinusoidal it is when viewed from Earth". "Instead, what we've observed is the largest coherent gas structure we know of in the galaxy, organized not in a ring but in a massive, undulating filament".

According to lead author Joao Alves, the sun is only 500 light years from the wave.

Zucker, mapping the 3-D positions of the nearby star kindergartens, said: "We finally managed to see our corner of the Milky Way in a new light and to reveal this big wave in front of us". A discovery related to the wave of gas has dramatically changed what we know about the structure, which is classified as Gould's Belt.

"It appears that the Sun, on its galactic orbit, crossed the Radcliffe Wave 13 million years ago, and may cross it again in the future".

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A long-standing test for cosmology and space experts is unraveling structures that are available in the "dusty" galactic neighborhood.

It has been dubbed the Radcliffe Wave, after Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study which analyzed the data from the mapping survey. "It is not possible to see this structure on the sky", Catherine Zucker, co-author of the paper and a graduate student at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told The Register.

The discovery appears to have always been on the surface, but it is only now that the "stellar nurseries" have been revealed. Inside these dense clouds, gas can be compressed to such extremes that new stars are born.

"We pulled this group together so we could go past preparing and arranging the information to effectively picturing it - for ourselves as well as for everybody".

Scientists have spotted a flock of young stars in the outskirts of the Milky Way, which is the home to some of the oldest stars of the galaxy.

"Studying stellar births is complicated by imperfect data. We chance to get the subtleties wrong in such a case that you're confounded about separation, you're bewildered about the size", another scientist Finkbeiner said. Perhaps we can even determine whether the Large and Small Magellanic clouds have previously passed through the Milky Way. "But determining how much mass the clouds have, how large they are - has been hard, because these properties depend on how far away the cloud is".

The contemporarily discovered stars could disclose contemporary perception into the Milky Way's history they may able to appraise if the Magellanic Clouds conflicted with our galaxy in the past.

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