First 3-D map of a gas cloud in space shows it’s flat like a pancake | Science News

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First 3-D map of a gas cloud in space shows it’s flat like a pancake

Its newfound shape could explain why the structure is missing stars

By
4:25pm, May 10, 2018
gas cloud

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE  This snakelike gas cloud (center dark area) in the constellation Musca resembles a skinny filament. But it’s actually a flat sheet that extends about 20 light-years into space away from Earth, an analysis finds.

For the first time, astronomers have charted the 3-D shape of a cloud of interstellar gas. The map explains why this cloud has failed to form stars so far, and could help test theories of how star formation works.

Astrophysicists Aris Tritsis, now of the Australian National University in Canberra, and Konstantinos Tassis of the University of Crete in Heraklion, Greece, examined a narrow gas cloud in the constellation Musca, located between about 490 and 650 light-years from Earth. What looked like a narrow wisp of cloud that should have been condensed enough to make stars instead stretches 20 light-years away from Earth, the pair report in the May 11 Science.

Such interstellar clouds are the primary birthplaces of stars and come in all sorts of blobby shapes. On the sky, the Musca cloud (sometimes called “the Dark Doodad Nebula”) looks like a long, thin snake about 26 light

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