Mysterious 500-light-year-wide ‘cavity’ discovered in space

The sphere-shaped phenomenon may explain how supernovae lead to star formation.


Astronomers have discovered a sphere-shaped 500-light-year-wide cavity in space. The cavity that spans about 150 parsecs was found while analyzing 3D maps of the shapes and sizes of nearby molecular clouds. 

This mysterious cavity is located in the sky among the constellations Perseus and Taurus. It is surrounded by the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds — regions in space where stars form.

According to astronomers, it must have formed due to ancient supernovae that went off some 10 million years ago.

Based on the findings, the team concluded that the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds are not independent structures in space. Instead, they formed together from the very same supernova shockwave.

It signifies that the supernova generates a sequence of events that may ultimately lead to the birth of new stars.

Astronomers used recent data from Gaia to create a 3D map of the bubble and surrounding clouds. The maps represent the first time molecular clouds have been charted in 3D.

Astronomers can see the clouds for decades, but they were unsure about their proper shape, depth or thickness, and distance. This 3D map allowed them to know where the clouds are located with only 1 percent uncertainty. This also allowed them to discern this void between them.

The visualizations have been made available publicly in augmented reality. Anyone can interact with the visualization of the cavity and its surrounding molecular clouds by simply scanning a QR code in the paper with their smartphone.

To create the visualization, the team used Glue, the data visualization software used to create the maps of molecular clouds.

Harvard professor and CfA astronomer Alyssa Goodman said, “You can make the universe float over your kitchen table.”

“We need richer records of scientific discovery. And current scholarly papers could be doing much better. All of the data in these papers are available online — on Harvard’s Dataverse — so that anyone can build on our results.”

Journal References:
  1. Shmuel Bialy et al. The Per-Tau Shell: A Giant Star-forming Spherical Shell Revealed by 3D Dust Observations. DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac1f95
  2. Catherine Zucker et al. On the Three-dimensional Structure of Local Molecular Clouds. DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ac1f96
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