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Study: 1,000-light-year-wide 'Local Bubble' is source of all young stars closest to Earth

By Rich Klein
Study: 1,000-light-year-wide 'Local Bubble' is source of all young stars closest to Earth
All young stars and star-forming regions with 500 light years of Earth sit on the surface of a giant gas bubble referred to as the "Local Bubble," researchers said on Wednesday. Photo by Leah Hustak/Space Telescope Science Institute/Harvard University

Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Every young star and star-forming region around the Sun within 500 light years of Earth sits on the surface of a "Local Bubble," according to a new study.

The bubble consists of a cavity of low-density, high-temperature plasma surrounded by a shell of cold, neutral gas and dust, according to the study, published Wednesday in the journal in the journal Nature.

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Researchers based at the Center for Astrophysics and the Space Telescope Science Institute said that Earth is at the center of the bubble, which was created by supernovas and expanded by at least 15 powerful star explosions.

"We've discovered a common origin for all nearby star formation," Catherine Zucker, a scientist at Harvard University, told New Scientist. "We can essentially explain how every single star-forming region within 500 light years from our sun began."

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Astronomers first discovered the bubble, a giant void, in the 1970s, but have learned more about it recently through observations made through the European Space Agency's Gaia telescope.

"When the first supernovae that created the Local Bubble went off, our Sun was far away from the action," Professor João Alves, an astronomer at the University of Vienna, said in a press release.

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"But about 5 million years ago, the Sun's path through the Galaxy took it right into the bubble, and now the Sun sits -- just by luck -- almost right in the bubble's center," Alves said.

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While astronomers first discovered the bubble decades ago when they realized that no stars had formed inside the void for about 14 million years, they had not been able to demonstrate how it worked -- or if there are others.

"Now, we have proof," Harvard professor and Center for Astrophysics astronomer Alyssa Goodman said in a press release. "And what are the chances that we are right smack in the middle of one of these things?"

The research team will next map out more interstellar bubbles to get a full 3D view of their locations, shapes and sizes and to better understand their relationship to each other.

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