Discoveries recently made with an advanced telescope indicate that filaments developing inside clouds of cosmic gas have about the same width. The measure holds true regardless of the length or density inside these clouds. The finding holds some interesting implications for astronomy.
Experts were surveying nearby interstellar gas clouds, when they found that the numerous filaments that criss-crossed these large formations have the same width. This was a very unexpected discovery, and one that propose new mechanisms of stellar formation.
One of the possible explanations for this could be that interstellar sonic booms coming from supernova are what cause the formation of gas filaments in this manner. Studies conducted thus far managed to see the filaments, but were unable to provide further details.
They were conducted using infrared observatories, which were only able to attest that these structures existed within the clouds, but were unable to provide detailed measurements of their dimensions.
Using the European Space Agency's (ESA) Herschel Observatory, astronomers were recently able to make out each individual cloud filament, and established that they all have the same width.
According to the new Herschel readings, each filament can stretch for tens of light-years, and their densest regions can contain nuclei of stellar formation. One young filament was found to contain about 100 new stars all on its own, Daily Galaxy
“This is a very big surprise,” explains the lead author of the new research, Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay (CEA/IRFU) expert Doris Arzoumanian. She led the team that conducted the new research, alongside colleague Philippe André .
Together, the investigators analyzed a total of 90 filaments. On average, each of them tended to be around 0.3 light-years across, which is the rough equivalent of about 20,000 astronomical units.
An AU is the mean distance between Earth and the Sun, about 93 million miles. The astronomers were puzzled to determine that the width of the filaments was so consistent, and sought out to find an explanation for this.
By cross-referencing the Herschel data with computer models of the gas clouds, the investigators were able to determine that the most likely culprit for this consistency are slow shock waves that are dissipating in the interstellar gas clouds.
These waves are most likely produced by stars going supernova. These events – some of the most powerful in the Universe – can stir up gas clouds thousands of light-years away. They produce mildly-supersonic shock waves that rippled through the gas, creating the filaments.
“This is not direct proof, but it is strong evidence for a connection between interstellar turbulence and filaments. It provides a very strong constraint on theories of star formation,” Dr André explains.
“The connection between these filaments and star formation used to be unclear, but now thanks to Herschel, we can actually see stars forming like beads on strings in some of these filaments," adds ESA Herschel project scientist Göran Pilbratt.