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What are the 10 strangest space structures discovered in 2021?!

Orbiting more than 480 km above Earth and separated by tens of millions of light-years from the many interstellar objects it studies, the Hubble Telescope is taking “remote working” to a new level.

Even as the world grappled with another year of pandemic, strange and wonderful space discoveries poured in, as astronomers pulled the curtain on monstrous black holes, invisible giant magnetic structures and found a cosmic treasure trove of extraterrestrial planets.

And as a reminder that the universe gets weirder the further away from Earth, here are 10 of the most amazing, extreme, and mysterious space structures discovered in 2021.

1. Pac-Man star in the southern sky

The gaseous remains of an ancient supernova have been discovered that have taken on a shape instantly recognizable to fans of the classic video game Pac-Man. The object, officially known as N 63A, is the product of a star that collapsed under its own weight in the not-too-distant Large Magellanic Cloud, which lies 163,000 light-years from the Milky Way. The scattering of superheated gases took this shape by chance. But the shiny “power pellets” in Pac-Man’s way are no accident; According to NASA researchers, the globules are young stars, formed from the same cloud of gas that carried the ill-fated star Pac-Man long ago.

2. A ghostly jellyfish escaped death

Galaxy clusters are the largest known structures in the universe, bound together by gravity. It can contain thousands of galaxies, huge clouds of hot gas, and sometimes the glowing ghost of a jellyfish or two. In the galaxy cluster Abell 2877, located in the southern sky about 300 million light-years from Earth, astronomers have discovered a space “jellyfish” visible only in a narrow band of radio light, more than a million light-years across.

According to a study published March 17 in The Astrophysical Journal, no structure of this size has been seen in such a narrow range of light. This cosmic jellyfish may in fact be a “radio phoenix” – a cosmic structure born from a high-energy explosion (such as a black hole explosion), fading over millions of years as the structure expands and its electrons losing energy, and finally being revitalized by another cosmic catastrophe (such as a collision two galaxies). The result is a massive structure that glows brightly at certain radio frequencies but quickly dims at all others.

3. An extremely rare planet in the nose of the Orion Nebula

This year, scientists found compelling evidence that the rarest type of planet in the universe – one world orbiting three stars simultaneously – lies at the tip of the mighty gaseous nose of the constellation hunter.

The star system, known as GW Orionis (or GW Ori), located about 1,300 light-years from Earth, is a tempting target for study. With three dusty orange rings nested within each other, the system literally looks like a giant bull’s-eye in the sky. In the center of the bull’s-eye are three stars – two are trapped in a tight binary orbit with each other, and the third orbit widely around the other two stars. In a paper published September 17 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the researchers build on previous data to show that the oscillating misalignment in the star system’s three rings is almost certainly caused by the presence of a large Jupiter-sized planet within one of the rings. If confirmed by future research, this massive world would become the first “circular” planet, or a planet orbiting three stars, to be discovered in the universe.

4. Spiral black hole energy cannon

In 2019, researchers released the first (and so far only) image of a supermassive black hole, a massive object 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun located 55 million light-years from Earth in the galaxy Messier 87. And this year, scientists took another look. On the monster’s body using the Very Large Array Observatory in New Mexico, focusing now on the massive jet of matter and energy emanating from the center of the black hole. The team’s analysis showed that the giant radiation wasn’t a straight shooter, but rather was twisted into a strange “double helical” structure by a key-shaped magnetic field exploding from the black hole and reaching deep into space for nearly 3,300 light-years.

The researchers said this is the longest magnetic field ever detected in galactic radiation, and provides new insight into one of the most common phenomena in the universe.

5. An invisible “barrier” protects the center of the galaxy

The Milky Way’s center acts as a giant particle accelerator, shooting beams of charged matter called cosmic rays into the universe at nearly the speed of light. When researchers attempted to map the intensity of cosmic rays near the galactic center in a study published November 9 in the journal Nature Communications, they discovered something puzzling: Even as cosmic rays streamed out from the galactic center en masse, there was a mysterious “barrier” to keep much of the Incoming cosmic rays from entering the center at all. The team was only able to speculate on the source of this cosmic ray barrier, but suggested that it could be a mixture of magnetic fields related to our galaxy’s central black hole, the monstrous arc A*.

6. Huge “building trough” of ancient galaxies

In a study published Oct. 26 in the Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics, scientists co-discovered a huge “shipyard” where galaxies are built, similar to the ones in which our Milky Way originated. The giant structure, called the protocluster, contains more than 60 galaxies and 11 billion light-years from Earth, putting it in a part of the universe that is only 3 billion years old. Protoclusters form like this in regions of space where long filaments of gas, called filaments, intersect, providing gravitational hydrogen to coalesce into stars and galaxies. The researchers said the young galaxies gathering in the “shipyard” appear to be growing at a fierce and almost unrealistic speed. The results suggest that ancient protoclusters were much more efficient at assembling the foundations of the modern universe than researchers had imagined.

7. A “hollow” 500 light-years wide in the Milky Way

Two gas clouds appear alongside the Milky Way. These massive provinces of star-forming gas, known as “molecular clusters”, stretch across the sky and seem to form a bridge between the planets Taurus and Perseus. It’s a heavenly tale of love across the stars – and according to the latest research, it’s also a colossal optical illusion.

New 3D maps of the region, courtesy of the European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory, show that these flowing clouds are hundreds of light-years apart, separated by an enormous, empty separation that is completely absent from gas, dust and stars. This newly discovered rift, called the Perseus-Taurus Supershell, spans about 500 light-years, according to a study published September 22 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and was likely created by a catastrophic supernova millions of years ago.

8. The twisting magnetic “tunnel” that surrounds the solar system

Earth, along with the rest of the solar system and some nearby stars, may be trapped inside a giant magnetic tunnel — and astronomers don’t know why. In a research paper in the arXiv preprint database, they suggest that a huge magnetic tunnel, 1,000 light-years long and invisible to the naked eye, might surround the solar system.

The team’s investigation of two of the brightest radio-emitting gas structures in our galactic region – the North Polar Spur and the Van Region – revealed that the two structures may be related, even though they lie on different sides of the sky.

It is not clear where this magnetic “tunnel” came from, the researchers said, but such a tunnel could be found everywhere in the universe and possibly part of an extensive network of intersecting magnetic field lines.

9. The ‘Spaghetti’ Star’s First Scene

When an unlucky star ventures too close to one of the voracious black holes, the black hole’s intense gravity stretches the star into a long, noodles shape. And in May, researchers saw this disorderly process occur directly for the first time, when a black hole 750 million light-years from Earth and weighing 30 million times the mass of the Sun trap a passing star in its clutches. The catastrophic encounter produced a bright flash of optical light, X-rays and radio waves that telescopes on Earth can clearly detect.

But it also revealed an unusual pattern of absorption lines around the black hole’s pole, showing a long filament of light coiled several times around the black hole, like a ball of filament. Since most absorption lines usually appear near the black hole’s equator, the researchers concluded that they must have seen “stellar spaghetti” in action.

10. A mysterious hut on the far side of the moon

Finally, for an object closer to us than anything described this year, how about a “mysterious hut” that stands proudly on the far side of the moon? The Chinese rover Yutu 2 spotted the cube-shaped anomaly on October 29, with the object protruding above a uniform horizon. Is it a strange obelisk, like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”?, or is it something more boring, like one of the many moon rocks? It will take Yutu two or three months to take a closer look – and hopefully, the answer will be satisfactory.


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