Star Stream

Something Is Ripping Apart the Nearest Star Cluster to Earth

Could it be dark matter?

Mar 25 by Victor Tangermann
ESA
Image by ESA

An invisible force is tearing apart the closest star cluster to the Solar System — and astronomers are trying to figure out what it is, as Science Alert reports.

The ripping apart isn’t much of a surprise in and of itself. Gravitational forces tend to rend apart star clusters to form tidal streams, which are essentially rivers of stars.

But something else, far more violent, appears to be causing the stars in the Hyades cluster, some 153 light years away, to be obliterated and scattered.

The European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory has been helping scientists create a detailed three dimensional map of the Milky Way.

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Now, a team of astronomers from the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory have combed through recently released Gaia data. What they found was hundreds of stars associated with Hyades’ tidal tails, which are even smaller threads of stars that emanate from both behind and in front of a given cluster.

Hyades’ tails alone were found to span thousands of light-years. What made them even more unusual, however, was the fact that many of the stars weren’t accounted for when the team used computer simulations to map the stars’ movements during their lifetime of hundreds of millions of years.

In other words, something absolutely huge must have interacted with them to cause them to form these trails.

“There must have been a close interaction with this really massive clump, and the Hyades just got smashed,” said Tereza Jerabkova, ESA research fellow and lead author of a paper about the research published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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In the paper, Jerabkova and her colleagues suggest that this “massive clump” may be a “dark matter sub-halo,” meaning naturally occurring clumps of dark matter that scientists believe may be shaping the galaxy.

“With Gaia, the way we see the Milky Way has completely changed,” Jerabokova said. “And with these discoveries, we will be able to map the Milky Way’s sub-structures much better than ever before.”

READ MORE: Something Invisible Is Tearing Apart The Nearest Star Cluster to Earth [Science Alert]

More on Gaia: Astronomers Discover Hannibal Lecter Stars That Wear Planet Corpses

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