This Region of Space Is Empty, and Scientists Don’t Know Why







South of the large star-forming region known as the Orion Nebula, lies a mysterious structure dubbed NGC 1999. NGC 199 is actually a dust-filled bright nebula. And while it may seem like many other similar nebulae out there, this one is unique for an important reason: it has a vast hole of empty space, represented by a black patch of sky.

Hubble/WFPC2 captures the void in 2000. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.


Previous studies assumed that the mysterious black patch in the sky was in fact due to an extremely dense cloud of dust and gas that blocked all light which normally passes through. Such structures are referred to as dark nebulas. A dark nebula or absorption nebula is a type of interstellar cloud that is so dense that it obscures the light from objects behind it.


However, analysis of this region of the sky using the infrared Herschel telescope (which has the capability of penetrating such dense cloud material) on October 9, 2009, revealed in continued ‘black space‘.




This mean two things:
1.     Either the cloud material was so dense that we simply couldn’t peer through it;
2.     Or scientists have detected an unexplained phenomenon in outer space.

The overall nebula with smaller hole shown in context. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Follow-up studies supported by ground-based observations using the submillimeter bolometer cameras on the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment radio telescope and the Mayall (Kitt Peak) and Magellan telescopes deepened the mystery. Scientists determined that the mysterious patch of dark space is not black because of extremely dense pockets of gas, but because there’s actually nothing there; it is truly empty space.


This is one of the greatest cosmic mysteries discovered to date. In fact, scientists have still not been able to fully explain how something like this can exist. Some astronomers speculate that the cause of this empty space is jets of hot gas coming from young stars that have helped created a hole through space. Others believe that powerful radiation from nearby stars helped created this mysterious emptiness.





The exact reason behind the empty space remains subject to speculation. Understanding what exactly the cause of this strange cosmic phenomenon is, could help us better understand how stars are formed in outer space.

 NGC 1999: South of Orion Credit & Copyright: Robert Gendler.
The NGC 1999 nebula is illuminated by a bright, recently formed star, visible in the Hubble photo (above)  just to the left of center.





This star is cataloged as V380 Orionis, and its white color is due to its high surface temperature of about 10,000 degrees Celsius (nearly twice that of our own Sun). Its mass is estimated to be 3.5 times that of the Sun. The star is so young that it is still surrounded by a cloud of material left over from its formation, here seen as the NGC 1999 reflection nebula.

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