A cloud of gas with a strange helical structure has been found using the Nobeyama Radio Observatory (NRO) 45m Telescope in the Japan Alps.
Dubbed the “pigtail” molecular cloud, it is about 30,000 light-years away in the Galactic Center at the heart of the Milky Way. Here giant molecular clouds of gas follow two distinct elliptical orbits around the galactic nucleus.
The helical shape was first noticed in data of the rotational spectral lines emitted by carbon monoxide gas molecules. The researchers then confirmed the cloud’s shape by looking at six other types of gas molecules.
“We were amazed by the clear and beautiful helical structure of the ‘pigtail’ molecular cloud in the data taken by the follow-up observation,” said research team leader Shinji Matsumura at Keio University in a press release.
“The data revealed that the pigtail molecular cloud has a huge volume of gas, several hundreds of thousands times greater than the sun has.”
The team found a lot of silicon monoxide molecules, which are indicative of a shock wave. They concluded that the helical cloud formed between two different molecular clouds that collided where the two elliptical orbits in the Galactic Center intersect.
The “pigtail” molecular cloud is the third such helical structure to have been found in the Galactic Center, but has a much clearer shape. All are believed to be due to magnetic fields being twisted.
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