Colombian astrophysicist Juan Diego Soler, currently affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA)In Germany, he led a team of scientists who discovered a huge structure of atomic hydrogen that runs through the entire Milky Way, our galaxy.
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This structure consists of a huge hydrogen lane 3,000 light years long and running parallel to the disk of the galaxy.
To this lane, which according to the researchers constitutes the largest coherent structure in the Milky Way, Soler baptized it as Maggie, an abbreviation of Magdalena, in honor of the longest river in Colombia.
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Maggie was identified thanks to observations made with computer vision techniques applied to the observations in the program THOR, (The HI/OH/recombination linesurvey), which contains observations obtained with the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio interferometer, based in New Mexico, USA.
Thanks to these observations, the researchers also identified that Maggie is part of a larger intricate network of hydrogen filaments that runs parallel to the galactic ring.
According to the researchers, whose work is published this Wednesday in the magazine Astronomy & Astrophysics, it is the most detailed view of the distribution of atomic hydrogen within the Milky Way produced to date.
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Scientists infer that these structures retain a trace of the
dynamic processes generated by the rotation of the galactic disk and the injection of energy from ancient supernova explosions.
“Hydrogen is the key ingredient to form new stars. But although it is the most abundant chemical element in the Universe, the question of how this gas assembles in the clouds from which stars are formed remains open,” he explained Yuan Wang, responsible for data processing at MPIA.
According to those responsible, the study provides maps of the gas distribution in the inner region of the Milky Way, with the highest spatial resolution achieved to date.
“These data also provide the velocity of the gas in the direction of observation. Combined with a model of how gas in the disk of the Milky Way rotates around its center, we can even infer distances, “adds Wang about
one of the methods astronomers use to determine the
general structure of the Milky Way.
Births, deaths and stellar ‘fossils’
To better record the atomic distribution of hydrogen gas, Soler applied a mathematical data algorithm commonly used in applications such as character recognition and analysis of satellite images.
This resulted in the discovery of the hydrogen filament network, including Maggie.
“In recent years astronomers have studied many molecular filaments, but Maggie appears to be purely atomic. Due to her fortunate position in the Milky Way, we were lucky to detect her,” added Jonas Syed, a doctoral student at MPIA, and who he is also part of the THOR team.
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Although most of the filaments found parallel to the disk of the Milky Way, another series of vertical hydrogen structures particularly caught the researchers’ attention.
“Like pizza dough when spun, we expected most of the filaments to be parallel to the plane and stretched by the rotation. So when we found many vertical filaments around regions known for their high star-forming activity, we knew we had found something important. Some process must have been throwing material out of the galactic plane ”, explains Soler.
Soler ensures that a possible explanation for these vertical filaments could be in stars with great masses (more than eight times the mass of the Sun), which inject large amounts of energy into their surroundings through winds, ionizing radiation, and at the same time. end of their lives through supernova explosions.
“Astronomers have used atomic observations of hydrogen to identify shells of matter around supernova explosions that are a few million years old. Shock waves from these explosions cause hydrogen gas to pile up in dense clouds. But this is different, “he says.
Since most of the vertical filaments of atomic hydrogen appear to be concentrated in regions with a long history of star formation, where several generations of star and supernova explosions have occurred, the researchers linked them to events that preceded the shells.
“Most likely we are seeing the remnant of many older shells that exploded when they reached the edge of the galactic disk, accumulated over millions of years and remain coherent thanks to magnetic fields,” explains Soler.
The results and analysis tools of this study offer a new link between the observations and the physical processes that lead to the accumulation of gas that precedes the formation of new stars in the Milky Way and other galaxies.
“Galaxies are complex dynamic systems and it is difficult to get new clues. Archaeologists reconstitute civilizations from the ruins of cities. Paleontologists rebuild ancient ecosystems from bones
of dinosaurs. We reconstructed the history of the Milky Way using hydrogen clouds ”, concludes Soler.