Astronomers from the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard & Smithsonian discovered an enormous cavity in space while analyzing 3D maps of the shapes and sizes of molecular clouds, a press statement reveals.
The cavity, which is shaped like a sphere, is roughly 150 parsecs (approx. 500 light years) wide and it is located amongst the constellations of Perseus and Taurus in the night sky. In a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the researchers detail how they believe the cavity was formed by ancient supernovae approximately 10 million years ago.
The researchers set out to study molecular clouds — regions of space where stars form — when they found the massive cavity, which they also describe as a "bubble" in space. "Hundreds of stars are forming or exist already at the surface of this giant bubble," Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral researcher and the study lead, explained. "We have two theories — either one supernova went off at the core of this bubble and pushed gas outward forming what we now call the 'Perseus-Taurus Supershell,' or a series of supernovae occurring over millions of years created it over time."
New molecular clouds study makes science more accessible
The astronomers believe their findings show that the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds are not separate structures and that they were formed together from the same supernova shockwave. "This demonstrates that when a star dies, its supernova generates a chain of events that may ultimately lead to the birth of new stars," Bialy said.
The 3D map of the cavity and its surrounding molecular clouds was developed using new data from a space observatory launched by the European Space Agency, called Gaia. It is the first time that molecular clouds have been mapped in 3D. The maps were compiled in order to compare theories on the formation of stars to real 3D views of molecular clouds for the very first time. Impressively, the paper includes a QR code that anyone can scan to gain a 3D visualization of the molecular clouds in augmented reality via their smartphone. The team behind the research and paper envision a world in which scientific findings are made more accessible and engaging by enhanced visual aids such as their augmented reality demonstration. And, of course, they also aim to vastly increase our understanding of supernovae and the formation of new stars.