Astronomers discover where a cosmic cataclysm blew a huge hole in space
Astronomers have discovered a big hole in space. New 3D visualizations of the Perseus and Taurus star-forming clouds have revealed a large cavity between them, possibly created in ancient supernova explosions.
As the names suggest, the Taurus and Perseus Molecular Clouds are both regions with a high density of gas and dust, which are actively forming brand new stars. When viewed from Earth they’re located in the same patch of sky, but their relationship and actual proximity in space remained murky.
A new 3D map of the region, however, paints a different picture. Astronomers from the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) used data gathered by the Gaia mission to examine the clouds in three dimensions for the first time, and found that they lie on opposite sides of a vast empty bubble, almost 500 light-years wide.
"We've been able to see these clouds for decades, but we never knew their true shape, depth or thickness,” says Catherine Zucker, lead author of the study. “We also were unsure how far away the clouds were. Now we know where they lie with only one percent uncertainty, allowing us to discern this void between them.”
So how did that big hole get there? The researchers speculate that some 10 million years ago a supernova went off in the center of the region, or perhaps several of these explosions occurred over millions of years. Either way, the shockwaves blew the dust and gas outward like a giant bubble, which the team now calls the Perseus-Taurus Supershell.
It tells quite a poetic story, how the death of a few stars led to the birth of thousands of new ones. The idea has long been theorized, but the team says this marks the first direct evidence of this cycle.
The research was published in two studies, one appearing in the Astrophysical Journal and the other in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. The team demonstrates the 3D visualization in the video below.