Did supernovae help form Barnard’s Loop?

Credit: Michael Foley

Astronomers who study the structure of the Milky Way galaxy have released the highest resolution 3D view of Orion’s star forming region. The picture and interactive figure were presented today at a press conference organized by the American Astronomical Society.

Led by researchers from the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, the work links 3D data on young stars and interstellar gas around Orion’s complex of star forming regions. Analysis of 2D and 3D images, alongside theoretical modeling, shows that supernova explosions over the past 4 million years have produced large cavities in the interstellar material associated with Orion.

A particular cavity discovered by the team could help explain the origin of Barnard’s Loop, a famous and mysterious semicircle in the night sky first observed in 1894.

To 3D and beyond

The study, which is available in pre-publication on Authorrelies on 3D positions and velocities to young stars and interstellar clouds obtained using Gaia, a space telescope operated by the European Space Agency. The team combined 3D data derived from Gaia with existing 2D observations of the Orion region to reconstruct its star formation history.

“Our first full-scale 3D look at Orion tells us a lot,” says Michael Foley, a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) who led the study. “Before this work, most studies of Orion were limited to two dimensions – up-down and left-right on the sky. By adding the third dimension – distance – we can begin to map all sorts of interesting structures, like huge cavities of gas and dust or clusters of stars with very interesting movements. interstellar gas and the stars lead us to believe that cavities have been produced by a number of supernovae over the past few million years.”

“Orion has had quite an exciting history,” he adds.

Catching the culprit: finding a source for Barnard’s loop

One of the cavities detected by the team appears to correspond to Barnard’s Loop, a famous giant arc of hot gas in the Orion region that astronomers have studied for over a hundred years. The origin of the arc is debated, but the new study offers evidence that a certain star cluster, which produced one or more supernovae, played a very important role in the formation of Barnard’s Loop.

Most of the new star formation in the Orion complex appears to be occurring around the edges of the giant cavities – one of which is nearly 500 light-years wide – that are appearing throughout the region, suggesting that the supernovae that formed the cavities are ultimately responsible for forming the next generation of stars.






Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Supernovae everywhere

The new findings are consistent with the team’s previous work on the local Per-Tau Supershell bubble around the Sun.

“It seems clear that we’re going to see a ‘Swiss cheese’ picture of the interstellar medium, with stars forming at the edges of the holes, as we increasingly map the galaxy,” says Alyssa Goodman, Harvard professor, CfA astronomer and co-author of the study.

“We believe the Orion shells and loops, Per-Tau shell, and local bubble are the first of many discoveries linking new star formation to old supernovae,” Foley said. “Supernovae sweep up gas and dust in dense clumps, leading to perfect birthplaces for new stars. The Orion region, rich in both star formation and supernovae, is the latest example. “

The new results from Orion support the theory that when massive stars end their lives as supernova explosions, they create the conditions for new stars to form. The team is working hard to analyze other regions of the Milky Way galaxy in 3D and using numerical simulations, to see just how common supernova-induced star formation really is.

“Thanks to the work of many incredible scientists, 3D data will transform our understanding of star formation in our galaxy,” Foley notes. “It may be much more explosive than we even imagine!”

View and publish in 3D

The scientific paper showcasing Orion’s work contains interactive 3D figures showcasing the results, as do essentially all recent publications by this team. The team’s interactive figurines, which have appeared in recent years in NatureThe Astrophysical Journaland the Astrophysical Journal Letterswere produced using the “glue“Visualization software created by NASA in part to explore incoming data from the James Webb Space Telescope.

Figures uses a glue plugin, written by co-author Catherine Zucker of the Space Telescope Science Institute, to export figures from any author to an interactive graphical environment. The plugin allows authors to manipulate numbers in a regular web browser and further explore their data.

The use of open source glue software and its web versions is currently making its way from astronomy to other scientific fields. Goodman, the glue’s founder, hopes that “soon all scientists will be exploring their ‘universe’ in 3D and sharing their findings in publications as easily as astronomers can today.”


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More information:
Michael Foley et al, A 3D view of Orion: the I loop. barnard, Author (2022).

Quote: Did supernovae help form the Barnard Loop? (2022, June 16) retrieved June 16, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-supernovae-barnard-loop.html

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