Astronomers have identified a huge new “void” in space, with hardly any visible stars within a bubble stretching some three thousand trillion miles across.
Scientists are so far unable to explain how the huge void, which lies between the constellations Perseus and Taurus, might have formed.
There are several such empty bubbles in the universe, the best-known of which is the 330,000,000 light-year Boötes void, which is also known as “The Great Nothing”.
There are a number of explanations for these mysterious cavities in space, among the wildest is the suggestion that an extraterrestrial super-civilisation could have built power-harvesting Dyson spheres around a vast number of stars, blocking out their light.
Study leader Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC) at the Centre for Astrophysics, has a couple more explosive ideas: “We have two theories,” he said.
“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.”
If he correct, he says, the existence of this empty space demonstrates that “when a star dies, its supernova generates a chain of events that may ultimately lead to the birth of new stars.”
The gigantic bubble in space was spotted while researchers were analysing 3D maps of molecular clouds in space created using data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope.
Postdoctoral researcher Catherine Zucker said the 3D maps were giving astronomers a brand new perspective on the structure of the Universe.
“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,” she explained.
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“Now we know where they lie with only 1% uncertainty," she added. "allowing us to discern this void between them.”
She went on to explain that there are a number of theories for how these molecular gas clouds go on to give birth to new star systems: “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.”
An article describing the findings, ‘The Per-Tau Shell: A Giant Star-forming Spherical Shell Revealed by 3D Dust Observations’, is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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