Science

Scientists find enormous ‘cavity’ in space that stretches almost 500 light-years across 

Scientists find enormous ‘cavity’ in space that stretches almost 500 light-years across – and they have no idea how it got there

  • Astronomers discovered a cavity in space that spans a distance of nearly 500 light-years, but are not sure how it was formed
  • It’s located between the constellations Perseus and Taurus and is surrounded by molecular clouds  
  • The cavity may have been formed by an ancient supernova 10 million years ago 
  • The research suggests the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds are not two separate structures, but may have formed together

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Astronomers have discovered a vast cavity in space that spans a distance of nearly 500 light-years, but are still unclear how it was formed.

The spherical void is located between the constellations Perseus and Taurus and is surrounded by molecular clouds, the areas where stars form.

It’s possible the cavity was formed by an ancient supernova some 10 million years ago, but researchers are still baffled by its existence.

‘Hundreds of stars are forming or exist already at the surface of this giant bubble,’ said the study’s lead author, Shmuel Bialy, in a statement.

‘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 supernova occurring over millions of years created it over time.’

Astronomers discovered a cavity in space that spans a distance of nearly 500 light-years, but are not sure how it was formed

It's located between the constellations Perseus and Taurus and is surrounded by molecular clouds, where stars are born

It’s located between the constellations Perseus and Taurus and is surrounded by molecular clouds, where stars are born

The constellation Perseus is comprised of thousands of galaxies and is approximately 240 light-years from Earth.

Conversely, the constellation Taurus is approximately 65 light-years from Earth.

The research suggests that the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds are not actually two separate structures, but may have formed together from the aforementioned supernova explosion.

‘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 added.

The void was discovered when the researchers looked at 3D maps of the molecular clouds and other clouds nearby, made from data created by Gaia, the European Space Agency’s observatory.

The cavity may have been formed by an ancient supernova 10 million years ago. The research suggests the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds are not two separate structures, but may have formed together

The cavity may have been formed by an ancient supernova 10 million years ago. The research suggests the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds are not two separate structures, but may have formed together

The molecular clouds had been known about for 'decades,' but this is the first time researchers were able to see them in 3D

The molecular clouds had been known about for ‘decades,’ but this is the first time researchers were able to see them in 3D

The molecular clouds had been known about for ‘decades,’ but this is the first time researchers were able to see them in 3D.

‘We’ve been able to see these clouds for decades, but we never knew their true shape, depth or thickness. We also were unsure how far away the clouds were,’ said one of the study’s co-authors, Catherine Zucker.

‘Now we know where they lie with only 1 percent uncertainty, allowing us to discern this void between them.’ 

In May, a separate group of researchers created the first high-resolution model of a molecular cloud.

‘There are many different theories for how gas rearranges itself to form stars,’ Zucker continued.

‘Astronomers have tested these theoretical ideas using simulations in the past, but this is the first time we can use real — not simulated — 3D views to compare theory to observation, and evaluate which theories work best.’

The research was published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters

HOW DO STARS FORM? 

Stars form from dense molecular clouds – of dust and gas – in regions of interstellar space known as stellar nurseries. 

A single molecular cloud, which primarily contains hydrogen atoms, can be thousands of times the mass of the sun. 

They undergo turbulent motion with the gas and dust moving over time, disturbing the atoms and molecules causing some regions to have more matter than other parts. 

If enough gas and dust come together in one area then it begins to collapse under the weight of its own gravity. 

As it begins to collapse it slowly gets hotter and expands outwards, taking in more of the surrounding gas and dust.

At this point, when the region is about 900 billion miles across, it becomes a pre-stellar core and the starting process of becoming a star. 

Then, over the next 50,000 years this will contract 92 billion miles across to become the inner core of a star. 

The excess material is ejected out towards the poles of the star and a disc of gas and dust is formed around the star, forming a proto-star. 

This is matter is then either incorporated into the star or expelled out into a wider disc that will lead to the formation of planets, moons, comets and asteroids.      

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