The Radcliffe wave is the nearest coherent gaseous structure in the Milky Way, dotted with a related high concentration of interconnected stellar nurseries. It stretches about 8,800 light years. It runs with the trajectory of the Milky Way arms, and lies at its closest (the Taurus Molecular Cloud) at around 400 light-years and at its farthest about 5000 light-years (the Cygnus X star complex) from the Sun, always within the Local Arm (Orion Arm) itself, spanning about 40% of its length and on average 20% of its width. Its discovery was announced in January 2020 and its proximity surprised astronomers.
Scientists do not know how the undulation of dust and gas formed; it has been suggested that it could be a result of a much smaller galaxy colliding with the Milky Way, leaving behind "ripples", or could be related to dark matter. Inside the dense clouds, gas can be so compressed that new stars are born; it has been suggested that this may be where the Sun originated.
Many of the star-forming regions found in the Radcliffe wave were thought to be part of a similar-sized but somewhat helio-centric ring in which sat our solar system, "the Gould Belt". It is now understood the nearest, discrete, relative concentration of sparse interstellar matter instead forms a massive wave.
The wave was discovered by an international team of astronomers including Catherine Zucker and João Alves. It was announced by co-author Alyssa A. Goodman at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, held at Honolulu and published in the journal Nature on 7 January 2020. The discovery was made using data collected by the European Space Agency's Gaia space observatory. The wave was invisible in 2D, requiring new 3D techniques of mapping interstellar matter to reveal its pattern. The proximity of the wave surprised astronomers. It is named after the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the place of study of the team.
The Radcliffe wave contains four of the five Gould Belt clouds, the:
The cloud not within its scope is the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud complex, part of a parallel, linear structure to the Radcliffe wave.
The mass of this structure is on the scale of M☉. It has a length of 8.8 kilolight-years (2.7 kpc) and an amplitude of 520 light-years (160 parsec). The Radcliffe wave occupies about 20% of the width and 40% of the length of the local arm (Orion Arm). The latter is more dispersed as to its interstellar medium than the wave and has further, large, star-forming regions such as Monoceros OB1, California Nebula, Cepheus Far, and Rho Ophiuchi.
- Antlia 2, another giant ripple across the Milky Way's disc found in data from the Gaia space telescope
- List of nearby stellar associations and moving groups
- "Astronomers discover huge gaseous wave holding Milky Way's newest stars". The Guardian. 7 January 2020. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
- Rincon, Paul (7 January 2020). "Vast 'star nursery' region found in our galaxy". BBC News. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
- Brandon, Specktor (7 January 2020). "Mysterious 'Wave' of Star-Forming Gas May Be the Largest Structure in the Galaxy". livescience.com. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
- Alves, João; Zucker, Catherine; Goodman, Alyssa A.; Speagle, Joshua S.; Meingast, Stefan; Robitaille, Thomas; Finkbeiner, Douglas P.; Schlafly, Edward F.; Green, Gregory M. (January 2020). "A Galactic-scale gas wave in the Solar Neighborhood". Nature. 578 (7794): 237–239. arXiv:2001.08748. Bibcode:2020Natur.578..237A. doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1874-z. PMID 31910431.
- Osborne, Hannah (7 January 2020). "Something appears to have collided with the Milky Way and created a huge wave in the galactic plane". Newsweek.
- "Something Appears to Have Collided with the Milky Way and Created a Huge Wave in the Galactic Plane". Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. 8 January 2020. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
- McIntosh, Bennett (7 January 2020). "An Interstellar Ribbon of Clouds in the Sun's Backyard". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
- Strickland, Ashley. "Astronomers discover giant wave-shaped structure in the Milky Way". CNN. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
- "New map of Milky Way reveals giant wave of stellar nurseries". Phys.org. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
- Dunn, Marcia (8 January 2020). "Titanic wave of star-forming gases found in Milky Way". Associated Press. ISSN 0447-5763. Retrieved 8 January 2020 – via Japan Times Online.
- Alves, João; Zucker, Catherine; Goodman, Alyssa A.; Speagle, Joshua S.; Meingast, Stefan; Robitaille, Thomas; Finkbeiner, Douglas P.; Schlafly, Edward F.; Green, Gregory M. (2020). "A Galactic-scale gas wave in the solar neighborhood". Nature. 578 (7794): 237–239. arXiv:2001.08748. Bibcode:2020Natur.578..237A. doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1874-z. PMID 31910431.
- Interactive map of the Radcliffe wave on the sky
- The Radcliffe Wave informational site created by Harvard University