New research into a mysterious dark region at the center of the Milky Way could provide answers as to how our universe was formed, space scientists say.
A groundbreaking new study focusing on a turbulent gas cloud – ominously called the Brick – found there to be a significantly higher presence of carbon monoxide ice than previously thought.
Space scientists say the surprising findings could hold profound implications for our understanding of how stars are formed.
The findings, published in The Astrophysical Journal, were made possible using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – a $10bn piece of Star Wars-esque equipment floating in outer space around 1.5 million kilometers (1m miles) away from the Earth.
The Brick, a dark region at the center of the Milky Way that takes its name from its lack of transparency, has been the subject of much contention in the scientific community for some years.
The mysterious gas cloud is considered intriguing due to an unexpectedly low star-formation rate.
Being a cloud full of dense gas, the region would be expected to be a hotbed for the birth of new stars.
This most recent study, therefore, from American researchers at the University of Florida (UF), not only unearths a paradox at the center of our galaxy but indicates a crucial need to re-evaluate previously established theories about star formation.
The study, led by UF astronomer Dr. Adam Ginsburg, enlisted the help of the JWST to unearth its ‘monumental’ findings.
Using the telescope’s advanced infrared capabilities, Dr. Ginsburg and his team peered into the Brick and discovered a substantial presence of frozen carbon monoxide (CO).
The Brick harbors a significantly larger amount of CO ice than previously anticipated, carrying implications for our understanding of how stars are formed.
Dr. Ginsburg explained that until now, no one knew just how much ice there was in the Galactic Centre – the rotational center of the Milky Way where the Brick is found.
“Our observations compellingly demonstrate that ice is very prevalent there, to the point that every observation in the future must take it into account,” he said.
Stars typically emerge when gases are cool; meaning the significant presence of CO ice should suggest a thriving area for star formation in the Brick.
However, despite this wealth of CO, Dr. Ginsburg found that the structure defies expectations, with the gas inside the Brick appearing to be warmer than other comparable clouds.
These fresh observations therefore challenge our understanding of the abundance of CO in the centre of our galaxy and the critical gas-to-dust ratio there – with both measures appearing to be lower than previously thought.
“With JWST, we’re opening new paths to measure molecules in the solid phase (ice), while previously we were limited to looking at gas,” Dr Ginsburg explained.
“This new view gives us a more complete look at where molecules exist and how they are transported.”
To unveil the distribution of CO ice within this vast cloud, the researchers required intense backlighting from stars and hot gas, whereas previous observations of CO have been limited to emissions from gas.
These latest findings move beyond the limitations of previous measurements which were confined to around a hundred stars to encompass more than ten thousand stars and provide invaluable insights into the nature of interstellar ice.
Since the molecules present in our Solar System today were, at some point, likely ice on small dust grains that combined to form planets and comets, the discovery also marks a leap forward toward understanding the origins of the molecules that shape our cosmic surroundings.
These are just the team’s initial findings from a mere fraction of their JWST observations into the Brick, with Dr. Ginsburg setting his sights on a more extensive survey of celestial ice in future research.
“We don’t know, for example, the relative amounts of CO, water, CO2, and complex molecules,” he added.
“With spectroscopy, we can measure those and get some sense of how chemistry progresses over time in these clouds.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker