Jan 18, 2022 - Science

The giant, star-forming cosmic bubble surrounding Earth

An illustration of a bright yellow dot and a translucent bubble surrounding it against a black backdrop
An illustration of the local bubble surrounding Earth. Photo: CfA, Leah Hustak (STScI)

Our Earth and Sun sit almost exactly in the middle of a 1,000 light-year-wide cosmic bubble of plasma, gas and dust propelled by the explosions of surrounding stars, according to a new study.

Why it matters: By studying the bubble from Earth's vantage point, scientists have the chance to observe stars forming and evolving in a process fed by dying and exploding stars that created this bubble.

What's happening: The new study in the journal Nature suggests supernovas that exploded about 14 million years ago created the cosmic bubble we now sit within.

  • That bubble has allowed for the formation and evolution of young stars around Earth, according to the study.
  • The bubble is "coasting along at about 4 miles per second," Catherine Zucker, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement. "It has lost most of its oomph though and has pretty much plateaued in terms of speed."
  • The Sun ended up in the middle of the bubble by luck as its path through the galaxy brought us into the center of it instead of remaining on the outskirts, according to João Alves, another author of the study.

The big picture: Our bubble isn't the only one. Now, scientists want to learn more about how these interstellar bubbles interact with one another.

  • "Where do these bubbles touch? How do they interact with each other? How do superbubbles drive the birth of stars like our Sun in the Milky Way?" Zucker said.
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