May 20, 2022 9:45 pm

They discover “Maggie”, the place where stars are born?

Laura Faz Meteored Chile 4 min
filament 'Maggie'
The recent discovery of a large hydrogen filament in the Milky Way could be the key to understanding more about star formation. Credits: ESA/Gaia/MPIA.

“Maggie”, a hydrogen filament emerging in the Milky Way, could be a region with immediate raw material for new stars. Recently discovered by a group of astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), stretches about 3900 light years and contains mostly atomic hydrogen. It is one of the largest known structures in our galaxy!

It was named “Maggie” in honor of the Magdalena River, the longest in Colombia, the native country of one of the authors of the study who contributed to its discovery.

It is not an easy task to find an individual cloud of hydrogen in space. It is known by astronomers that these regions are essential for the study of the star formation. The discovery of this structure is key for future research, not only on the initial phase of stars, but also on the hydrogen behavior. How does the transition between atomic and molecular hydrogen occur? It is the question that the investigators hope to decipher through “Maggie”.

Its dimensions were determined from the velocity of hydrogen. Since the velocities along the filament hardly differ, it is estimated that It is a consistent structure. It is concluded that his average speed it is mainly determined by the rotation of the disk of the Milky Way. Thus, the distance and size of the filament could be inferred.

It is about 3,900 light-years long and 130 light-years wide. At a distance of about 55,000 light years, is on the far side of the Milky Way, reports the MPIA. To understand a little more, this filament is extremely large compared to other molecular gas clouds identified so far, stretching “only” 800 light-years across.

The researchers found evidence that “Maggie” contained molecular hydrogen in a mass fraction of about 8%, they explain in a statement from the MPIA, which leads one to think that stars would form here.

Hydrogen and more hydrogen in space

Hydrogen is the most abundant component in space and the main ingredient in the formation of stars, which makes it an indispensable focus to better understand stellar evolutionary processes. We can find it in various states, although astronomers detect it in the form of atoms and molecules. Only molecular gas condenses into a compact cloud capable of generating new stars.

Molecular hydrogen is formed when two hydrogen atoms react together to form a mutual bond. It is also the smallest, lightest and probably the most important molecule in the creation of matter. It is still a mystery how the most common molecule in the universe is generated, that is, how it transitions from atomic to molecular hydrogen. This study could help find out. In addition, the James Webb Space Telescope will be in charge of observing and monitoring molecular hydrogen in space during its mission.

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