Scientists have unraveled the mystery of the giant cosmic bubble surrounding the Earth

Artist’s illustration of a local bubble with stars forming on the surface of the bubble. Scientists say that all young stars within 500 light years of the Sun and Earth exist because of this bubble.

Lea Hostak (@STScI)

Once in galactic history, a group of stars exploded to form a fictional supernova. The eruption was so powerful that its shimmering remnant pushed the surrounding blanket of interstellar gas outwards and soared into a cosmic bubble 1,000 light-years wide — a giant bubble that is still growing today.

Coincidentally, experts say, our sun flew right into this bubble. Now we live right in the middle of it, producing a globe that is aptly named: the local bubble. And in a paper Published Wednesday in the journal NatureScientists provide new details about the bubble saga using a 3D map of the giant structure.

Even more surprising, they discovered that this is the main reason we have such a young star-rich environment.

“This really is an origin story; for the first time we can explain how all nearby star forms began,” said Kathryn Zucker, an astronomer and data visualizer formerly at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and author of the study, He said in a statement.

Astronomers typically study the seven points in space where stars seem to form most often — Zucker’s study found that each of them sits directly on the surface of a local bubble. The team believes that a star-studded bubble similar to the bubble that surrounds us appears throughout the universe, but also that our position directly in the center of it is extremely rare.

This concept is comparable to a space texture such as Swiss cheese, where each hole is a star-forming center. Somehow, we’re in one of those cheesy holes. Since our house star has set up shop within the Local Bubble, every time we look up at the sky, we witness many star births.

Beyond that star shell, the team’s brilliant 3D animation of the local bubble – which you can play here – Explain the evolution of the structure.

For example, the researchers calculated that about 15 supernovae were responsible for the origin of the point, which occurred about 14 million years ago. The sun appears to have entered orbit about 5 million years ago, and the bubble appears to be falling at 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) per second. “It lost most of its appeal … and pretty much settled in terms of speed,” says Zucker.

Alyssa Goodman, an astronomer at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and author of the study, called the team’s findings “an extraordinary detective story, driven by data and theory.” Goodman is also the founder LemData visualization software that enables discovery.

In the future, the researchers hope to continue to uncover the secrets of interstellar bubbles, such as the Local Bubble, by applying their program to 3D maps of distant universes.

“We can piece together the history of star formation around us using a variety of independent clues: supernova models, stellar motion, and fantastic new 3D maps of the material surrounding the Local Bubble,” Goodman said.

Zucker asked, “Where do these bubbles touch? How do they interact with each other? How do supernovae cause the birth of stars like our sun in the Milky Way?”

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