Scientists have found what they think to be floating structures in the shapes of noodles or hazelnuts in our Milky Way, a phenomenon that could change our ideas of the gas compositions within this region if this turns out to be so true.
But then, the alleged dark noodles lurking in the Milky Way are invisible to the naked eye.
According to Dr. Keith Bannister, an astronomer with CSIRO who published a study in the journal Science, it is possible that the invisible structures are within the stars located in our galaxy, appearing as lumps within the thin gas lying therein.
“They could radically change ideas about this interstellar gas, which is the Galaxy’s star recycling depot, housing material from old stars that will be refashioned into new ones,” Dr. Bannister said.
The researchers were able to determine the existence of the structural lumps after they observed and caught shape of the material – this had been possible by using the CSIRO’s Compact Array telescope located in eastern Australia.
Space scientists were first able to know about the lumps nearly 30 years ago after they detected radio waves produced by a quasar – a distant galaxy with varying intensity of luminosity.
Unable to fully comprehend why the lights of the quasar was varying in wild intensities, they were able to surmise that the structural lumps within invisible atmosphere must have been causing the varying lights from the quasar.
“Lumps in this gas work like lenses, focusing and defocusing the radio waves, making them appear to strengthen and weaken over a period of days, weeks or months,” Dr. Bannister explained.
Since detecting this phenomenon is very rare and nearly impossible, scientists gave up searching for it until Bannister and his team believed they should be able to do it using CSIRO’s Compact Array. The telescope was directed at PKS 1939-315, a quasar located at the constellation of Sagittarius, where they found out that the lensing lasted for close to one year.
This step was what made the researchers to be certain of the shape of the lens. “We could be looking at a flat sheet, edge on,” said CSIRO team member Dr. Cormac Reynolds. “Or we might be looking down the barrel of a hollow cylinder like a noodle, or at a spherical shell like a hazelnut.”
Then using optical and radio telescopes to map the lensing while it lasted, they found the quasar never changed much during the lensing period – suggesting that the dark lumps seen by Bannister’s team must have been different from what earlier optical surveys found.
This discovery means that the lenses could only have been cold clouds of gas that formed and held together due to their own force, further suggesting that clouds could be part of the mass of our galaxy.
How the invisible lenses formed is not known.
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“But these structures are real, and our observations are a big step forward in determining their size and shape,” Dr. Bannister said.