Breaking news! Scientists say there is an enormous gassy glob of star-birthing material forming a titanic wave in the Milky Way. The massive cloud holds tens of thousands of baby stars.
Scientist were startled to find the wave of gases practically right under their noses. In fact, the giant wave has been hiding out in the Milky Way galaxy’s spiral arm closest to Earth, and no one knew about it.
A nebula, or stellar nursery, is a giant space cloud filled with dust and gas. Stars are born inside a nebula when the dust and gas combine, collapse, and transform. These “nurseries” form a gassy filament that can be millions of light years across in size. So how did a new one just pop up on the “space radar”?
Europe’s Gaia spacecraft was key in the discovery. It provides very specific star data to help astronomers map out the space in between stars that is filled with big, dense clouds. Since 2013, Gaia has measured the distances to close to a billion stars in our galaxy.
Researchers at Harvard University were using data collected from Gaia to build a precise 3-D map of the galaxy when they made the extraordinary discovery. The stellar nursery was invisible on previous 2-D maps. The new 3-D map revealed the wave’s existence and location.
The mass of gases measures 50 quadrillion miles long. The gases appear interconnected, according to Harvard’s Catherine Zucker. Why they take the shape of a wave is puzzling. Until now, scientists thought stellar nurseries in the Milky Way existed in a ring-shaped band around the Sun. Those were easier to see in a two-dimensional plotting of the galaxy. Evidence that stars are being born in a linear wavy extension of the Milky Way is mind-boggling.
“It has completely transformed our understanding of our galactic neighborhood,” says Zucker.
The mysterious formation was dubbed Radcliffe Wave. Understandably, it is making tsunami-sized waves in the science community. The wave’s closest point to the Sun is just 500 light years away. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not far. The wave’s gases are equivalent to three million times the mass of the Sun. Scientists want to find the wave’s origin. They’ll be looking for more massive waves lurking around too.
Is not God high in the heavens? See the highest stars, how lofty they are! — Job 22:12