A Colombian astronomer has named what could be the largest known coherent object in our galaxy after Colombia’s Magdelena river, made famous in the pages of “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Juan Diego Soler, a Colombian astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, and his colleagues announced in late October that they’d found a 3000 light-years-long “lane” of atomic hydrogen that Soler named “Magdelena” in honor of his home country’s most culturally and economically important waterway
“It is the first time that I get to name an astronomical object,” he said, “That river is the real heart of Colombia and I hope to remind all Colombians of what a fantastic treasure we have in our country.”
Soler, who studies the formation of stars, says the formation, part of a complex network of filamentary structures of atomic hydrogen gas, may be the distant cousin of the Radcliffe wave, another huge filament found earlier this year.
“I found a gas structure that links us to a galactic past, to a time beyond our human perception in size scales that challenge our imagination,” he said, “If the people reading about this at home can feel challenged by the galaxy’s immensity, they can also imagine how singular and precious our planet is and the conditions that have led our species to thrive.”
Soler says in the same way that archaeologists reconstitute civilizations from the ruins of cities and Palaeontologists piece together ancient ecosystems from bones, his team is reconstructing Milky Way history using the clouds of atomic hydrogen gas.
“If you count all the gas in the galaxy that is cool enough to gravitationally collapse, the Milky Way should be forming 100 stars per year, but our best estimates indicate that only one star is formed every year… and we don’t know why,” he said, adding that this is an open mystery in astronomy.
Soler says this intricate web of gas was visualised by applying machine vision techniques to data from the THOR survey, conducted via the Karl Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio-telescope in Socorro, New Mexico.
“Galaxies are complex dynamical systems, and new clues are hard to obtain,” he said.
Soler was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia. After studying physics at Universidad de los Andes and doing internships at the Jefferson Lab in the US and the CEADEN in Havana, Cuba.
“I study the accumulation of gas and dust that precedes star formation and I arrived to this topic after working in medical physics and doing instrumentation for telescopes that we flew with balloons from Antarctica to measure the interstellar magnetic fields and their effect on the galactic rates of star formation,” he said.
Soler says that his project has been an international effort, involving researchers from multiple nationalities, including Latin Americans, with the next steps in Africa.
“The Square Kilometer Array is going to be the