A team of Chinese astronomers has announced the discovery of a huge new filament of cosmic gas and dust at the periphery of our galaxy, on the other side of the galactic nucleus, a structure that has been dubbed “Cattail” and is not yet fully mapped. could represent a previously unknown arm of the Milky Way, Space.com reported on Tuesday.
The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy with a central nucleus from which arms detach and containing stars, clouds of gas and cosmic dust. Our galaxy has four such known arms – two major, called Scutum-Centaurus and Perseus, and two minor arms, called Norma and Sagittarius, according to NASA. The sun is in a region of the Sagittarius arm called the Orion’s Spur, informs Agerpres.ro.
In recent years, researchers at the world’s largest radio telescope, the FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope) in Guizhou Province, China, have conducted systematic studies of a region of the sky called Cygnus-X, according to Keping Qiu, an astronomer at Nanjing University.
FAST observes the Universe on the frequency of radio waves in the electromagnetic spectrum, conditions in which the instrument can analyze cold and low-brightness structures, such as hydrogen-containing gas clouds, according to Qiu. While observing the Cygnus-X region, a huge stellar motherhood about 4,500 light-years from the Sun, Qiu and colleagues observed a series of hydrogen clouds that appeared to come from an area far behind the region. Cygnus-X.
By combining data obtained through the FAST radio telescope with data from two other telescopes, one in Germany and the other in Australia, the researchers were able to partially map this new structure, which spans about 3,600 light-years and is at a distance. for over 68,000 light-years from the Sun – thus standing out as the largest and most distant cosmic filament ever observed.
The team estimated that the Cattail filament has a mass equivalent to 65,000 suns, and its true size could be even larger, up to 16,000 light-years long.
The findings were accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Cattail is on the periphery of the Milky Way, on the other side of the galactic nucleus from the Sun, and about three times the distance from the galactic center than we are.
So far, astronomers have not been able to determine whether the Cattail structure is an independent filament or whether it wraps and connects somewhere with another arm of the Milky Way. Cattail could be a still unknown arm of the Milky Way or a branch of one of the other four known arms, according to Qiu.