There is a huge hole in the universe. A long time ago, a star exploded with great force and destroyed everything in its path. It even swept tiny particles of space dust out of its way – but in a sudden turn of events, that space dust gathered, collapsed and eventually gave birth to a cluster of tiny stars.
As the saying goes, it is the circle of life.
said lead author Shmuel Bialy, an astrophysicist in the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The story begins with a spherical void several million years old and 500 light-years wide lurking in outer space. To be clear, this completely vacant cavity is quite massive. One Light year About 6 trillion miles (9 trillion kilometers), which means the void could hold 150,000 copies of our solar system inside.
Mysterious and seemingly surprising cavities like this are sometimes discovered in the universe. It’s just a gaping hole in the empty space. But because astronomers typically study space in two dimensions – with spectrum data, or even photographs – it can be difficult to find the three-dimensional structures. Even when astronomers locate them, it can be hard to understand what’s going on.
“There’s a lot of confusion along the line of sight,” Bialy said. “You don’t know the distance, so sometimes we see different structures and it looks like it’s just one structure – or the other way around.”
The Bialy team solved the problem by harnessing a new power: augmented reality.
They recreated a miniature version of the giant cavity portable in space, as well as the objects that surround it. Then they played with their model in real time to unlock the secrets of the elusive void. a QR Code To masterpiece being included in their paper, published Wednesday in Astrophysical Journal Letters. There is, too Demo on YouTube.
Basically, you can download the reconstructed space to your phone and feel like it’s in your room. “It’s like movies where you have a 3D image,” Bialy said.
While scanning their digital sculptures for research purposes—as opposed to the trivial fun I enjoyed while rotating the projection on a coffee table—the team saw an unusual “shell” of material around a symmetrical, deserted area: the giant cavity.
They concluded that an explosion of a star roughly 10 million years old — or multiple starbursts within the time period — pushed the particles away in the vicinity, causing a capsule of space dust to encircle an uninhabited region of space.
“Imagine… you have a lot of dust from the ground,” Bialy explained. “You have a big room, and you just sweep some dust into one area – now, in this area … you have a much higher density of dust.”
When space dust clumps together, it is known to collapse and compress itself more easily. But perhaps the most surprising discovery is that two famous clouds, Perseus and Taurus, which show stars as small as a stellar plant, live in that crust of dust.
“It was traditionally thought that they were just two independent clouds,” Biali said. “Now with this 3D view and the discovery of this cavity, we understand that they were most likely formed together by a supernova explosion that preceded them.”
This means that stellar explosions may trigger a chain reaction that eventually leads to the formation of their descendants.
“I wouldn’t say this is the only way to form star-forming clouds, but this is a viable method,” Bialy said.
The entire Bialy project initially began as a test of the Perseus molecular cloud alone. The researchers were trying to understand the formation of stars and gaps within the small region of space in two dimensions. While looking at the photos, they began to notice small “shells” inside Perseus.
So, they started getting smaller…and then again…and again.
“We’ve expanded the map,” Biali explained. “We started seeing bigger and bigger shells until, finally, this massive shell.”
On top of encouraging the public to see the magic for themselves, by scanning a QR code and exploring the model, says Bialy, the team also released their all-digital data to the public. This ensures transparency so that anyone can try to draw the same conclusions the team made, but from scratch, if they so desire.
Along with the fascinating discoveries about how stars and star clouds are produced, Bialy asserts that the use of new perspectives and methodologies in astrophysics can pave the way for the future of the subject.
“I was just doing science,” Bialy said. “Suddenly, I’m working with this augmented reality company and an animator and different people.”
Augmented reality, specifically, promises a richer library of scientific literature. Instead of a thick collection of encyclopedias, we turn to digital holograms that can be called up at will.