While you’re swimming in a big physique of water, calculating its quantity or discerning the places of distant floating objects is not simple. The identical is true for our galaxy.

From our place contained in the Milky Means, a lot of its measurement, contents, and three-dimensional construction is actually tough to determine. There’s rather a lot that eludes us, or is unattainable to calculate; even so, each every so often, a discovery comes alongside that makes you marvel, how within the heck did we miss that?!


A newly found construction named the Cattail is simply such a marvel. It is a lengthy curl of fuel that is so massive, astronomers aren’t certain whether or not or not it would truly be a part of a galactic spiral arm that we by no means seen till now.

Even when it is not the signal of an unmapped spiral arm, the Cattail stands out as the largest filament of fuel in our galaxy found thus far. It has been described in a paper accepted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters, accessible on preprint server arXiv.

The construction “seems to be up to now the furthest and largest big filament within the galaxy,” a staff of astronomers from Nanjing College in China writes within the paper.

“The query about how such an enormous filament is produced on the excessive galactic location stays open. Alternatively, Cattail is likely to be a part of a brand new arm … although it’s puzzling that the construction doesn’t absolutely observe the warp of the galactic disk.

There are a number of causes it is exhausting to map the Milky Means in three dimensions. Certainly one of them is that it’s extremely tough to work out the distances to cosmic objects. One other is that there’s a lot of stuff on the market, so it may be exhausting to know if one thing is a big grouping or only a random assortment unfold out alongside a line of sight.


To determine the Cattail, a staff led by Nanjing College astronomer Chong Li used the large 5-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) to search for clouds of impartial atomic hydrogen (HI). Such clouds are often discovered within the spiral arms of galaxies like ours; by learning refined variations within the hydrogen’s mild, it is potential to map the quantity and association of the Milky Means’s arms from inside.

In August 2019, the researchers used FAST to search for HI radio emissions, and the info revealed what gave the impression to be a big construction. Once they calculated how briskly the construction was transferring, they acquired a shock: its velocity was per a distance of round 71,750 light-years from the galactic middle – the outer areas of the galaxy.

That distance – farther than any identified spiral arms in that area of the galaxy – would imply the factor is completely big, with a measurement of round 3,590 light-years in size and 675 light-years in width, based mostly on the FAST information.

However then, when the researchers mixed their findings with information from the HI4PI all-sky HI survey, they discovered that it could possibly be even bigger nonetheless – as a lot as round 16,300 light-years in size.


That may make it much more colossal than the fuel construction often known as Gould’s Belt, which was just lately discovered to be 9,000 light-years lengthy.

The Cattail raises some attention-grabbing questions. Most fuel filaments happen a lot nearer to the galactic middle, and are related to spiral arms. If it is a filament, it is unclear how the Cattail might have fashioned and remained out past the identified spiral arms of the Milky Means.

However, if it is a spiral arm, that is additionally peculiar. The galactic disc of the Milky Means is wobbly and warped from an encounter with one other galaxy, a very long time in the past. But the Cattail’s form doesn’t totally conform to this warp – which it ought to do if it was a spiral arm.

Even when the invention wasn’t already fascinating, these peculiarities point out that we’d wish to take a more in-depth have a look at this superb construction.

“Whereas these questions stay open with the present information,” the researchers wrote, “the observations present new insights into our understanding of the galactic construction.”

The analysis has been accepted into The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and is accessible on arXiv.



By Harry