Huge cavity in space sheds new light on how stars form

Astronomers have discovered a “gigantic cavity” in space, shedding light on how stars form.

The sphere-shaped void spans about 150 parsecs – nearly 500 light years – and is located among the Perseus and Taurus constellations.

Researchers believe the cavity was formed by an ancient supernovae – explosion of stars – that went off some 10 million years ago.

It is surrounded by the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds, which are regions in space where stars form.

Shmuel Bialy is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Centre for Astrophysics (CfA), Harvard and Smithsonian, who led the study.

He said: “Hundreds of stars are forming or exist already at the surface of this giant bubble.

“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.”

The finding suggests the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds are not independent structures in space.

Instead it indicates they formed together from the very 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,” Mr Bialy said.

The discovery was made by astronomers analysing 3D maps of the shapes and sizes of nearby molecular clouds.

New data from Gaia, a space-based observatory launched by the European Space Agency, was used to create the 3D map of the bubble and surrounding clouds.

Catherine Zucker, a postdoctoral researcher at the CfA who led the study, published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, said: “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.

“Now we know where they lie with only 1% uncertainty, allowing us to discern this void between them.”

Scientists and the public may interact with the visualisation of the cavity and its surrounding molecular clouds by scanning a QR code in the paper with their smartphone.

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