Astronomy breakthrough: Scientists find the largest structures ever seen in The Milky Way | Science | News

This gaseous body, which they named Maggie, is one of the longest structures ever observed in our galaxy. This structure stretches some 3900 light-years and consists almost entirely of atomic hydrogen gas. By contrast, the largest known clouds of molecular gas typically extend “only” about 800 light-years across.

According to researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), “Maggie” could represent a link in the matter cycle of the stars.

Their statement read: “Analysing the measurements suggests that the atomic gas in this lane converges locally to form molecular hydrogen.

“When compressed in large clouds, this is the material from which stars eventually form.”

Even though Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements in the Universe, researchers have a hard time being able to detect it, which makes it difficult to study the early phases of star formation.

That is why the recent discovery of a surprisingly long filament, of atomic hydrogen gas by an international research group led by astronomers from the MPIA all the more exciting.

Jonas Syed, a PhD student at MPIA and an author of the paper published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics said: “The location of this filament has contributed to this success,”

“We don’t yet know exactly how it got there. But the filament extends about 1600 light-years below the Milky Way plane.”

Henrik Beuther, a co-author of the study explained: “The observations also allowed us to determine the velocity of the hydrogen gas.”

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About a year ago, co-author Juan D. Soler first found evidence of his astonishingly long body.

He named the filament “Maggie” after the longest river in his home country of Colombia, called the Río Magdalena.

He explained: “Maggie was already recognizable in earlier evaluations of the data. But only the current study proves beyond doubt that it is a coherent structure.”

After a more detailed inspection, the team noticed that the gas converges at some points along the filament.

They conclude that the hydrogen gas accumulates at those locations and condenses into large clouds.

The researchers also suspect that those are the environments where the atomic gas gradually changes into a molecular form.

Astronomers at the institute believe that they are looking at a part of the Milky Way where the immediate raw material for new stars is being produced.

Hence, new stars could form here in the distant future.

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