Scientists from the University of Manchester and the University of Hong Kong have made a significant discovery regarding the mysterious alignment of stars near the Galactic Center. This alignment, initially observed by Manchester Ph.D. student Bryan Rees a decade ago, pertains to planetary nebulae, which are gas clouds expelled by dying stars.
Using data obtained from the European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope in Chile and the Hubble Space Telescope, the research team confirmed the alignment and identified a specific group of stars responsible for it: close binary stars. These binary systems consist of a primary star surrounded by a companion star that orbits it at a distance closer than Mercury orbits the Sun.
The team focused their study on planetary nebulae located in the Galactic Bulge, near the center of the Milky Way. Despite the nebulae originating from different stars born at various times and locations, they discovered that many of these nebulae align in the sky in a similar way, almost parallel to the Galactic plane.
Interestingly, the alignment was found exclusively in planetary nebulae with close stellar companions, while those without such companions did not exhibit the alignment. This suggests a potential connection between the alignment and the initial separation of the binary components during the star’s birth.
The findings bring scientists closer to understanding the cause behind this enigmatic alignment. They shed light on the dynamics and evolution of the Milky Way’s bulge region and offer insights into the complex process of star formation within the galaxy. By studying 136 confirmed planetary nebulae using powerful telescopes, the researchers obtained valuable evidence indicating a consistent and controlled process that has influenced star formation across vast distances and billions of years.
While further studies are necessary to fully comprehend the underlying mechanisms, this discovery marks an important step forward in unraveling the mysteries surrounding star formation and the alignment of celestial objects in our galaxy.
Source: University of Manchester