In a rare observation, scientists have detected a long thin filament of dense gas connecting spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy. The rare feature has been named Gangotri wave over the glacier that gives rise to the Ganga river in India. The new discovery adds to the already mysterious Milky Way that is home to our solar system.

The Milky Way galaxy is known as Akashganga in Hindi.

The research published in the journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters, states that the distinct wave-like shape and its peculiar orientation makes this cloud, named as the Gangotri wave, one of the largest and most intriguing structures identified in the Milky Way.

The detection was done while the astronomers led by PhD scholar V S Veena were studying concentrations of carbon monoxide gas in data from the APEX telescope in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile when they noticed concentrations that had not been seen before. According to, on a closer look, they discovered that it was part of a large gas formation that extended from near the centre of the galaxy outward, connecting two of the arms.

The researchers estimate the mass of the wave to be approximately equivalent to nine million suns. Meanwhile, the wave is not straight as expected, instead is made up of zig-zags back and forth along its length in a pattern similar to a sine wave. Previous research on other galaxies has shown features called feathers—long gas filaments with barbs that look like Earth-like feathers.

“With the advent of sensitive and high-resolution infrared and millimetre surveys, there has been tremendous progress in unveiling the intricate morphology of the large-scale gas structures in our galaxy,” the researchers said in the paper adding that the identification of multiple giant molecular filaments (GMFs) on scales of hundreds of parsecs has redefined our view of the Milky Way’s structural dynamics.

Scientists have long been working on charting a map of the Milky Way galaxy that houses our Solar system with its Sun and planets. Scientists have discovered that the Milky Way’s spiral structure is dominated by just two arms wrapping off the ends of a central bar of stars.

According to Nasa, the major arms consist of the highest densities of both young and old stars and the minor arms are primarily filled with gas and pockets of star-forming activity. Our Sun lies near a small, partial arm called the Orion Arm, or Orion Spur, located between the Sagittarius and Perseus arms.

Best estimates suggest that the Milky Way galaxy is made up of approximately 100 billion stars, which form a large disk whose diameter is about 100,000 light-years. Our Solar System is about 25,000 light-years away from the centre of our galaxy.


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