Astronomers have discovered that the Milky Way is a star-maker.
A titanic wave of star-forming gases is now being studied.
Harvard University scientists reported Tuesday that this massive structure has been hiding out in the Milky Way galaxy's spiral arm.
The researchers were working on a different project when the discovery was made.
They were building a 3-D map of our galaxy's interstellar matter, using a star census gathered by Europe's Gaia spacecraft.
It's an astounding 50 quadrillion miles long and it's home to tens of thousands of baby stars, with the potential for countless more stellar births, according to the paper published in the journal Nature.
The team was shocked by the discovery. No one expected “we live next to a giant, wave-like collection of gas — or that it forms the local arm of the Milky Way,” Harvard's Alyssa Goodman said in a statement.
What's more, the structure dubbed Radcliffe Wave — after a Harvard institute — contains stellar nurseries once thought to belong in a ring-shaped band around the sun. The wave contains gases equivalent to 3 million times the mass of the sun.
Launched in 2013, the Gaia spacecraft has measured the distances to close to 1 billion stars in our galaxy, providing a precious, colossal database for uncovering huge structures like the Radcliffe Wave, according to scientists.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.