Putting together this picture is part of why she’s excited to begin working with newly released data from ESA’s Gaia mission. By looking for stars whose light shows signs of absorption by material between Earth and that star, she hopes to better map the dynamics of nearby interstellar gas to determine whether events such as supernovae might prompt new stars to form.
This work builds on a January 2022 Nature paper led by Zucker, in which she and collaborators used Gaia data to show that 14 million years ago, a powerful supernova kicked off an expanding bubble called the Local Bubble. The bubble “swept up clouds of interstellar gas on its surface, which have now fragmented and collapsed to form new stars,” she says. From the Sun’s vantage point inside the Local Bubble, “we have an amazing view here on Earth of star formation happening all around us.”
But Gaia’s optical data limit its best results to nearby stars. So, Zucker is part of the next iteration of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which will use near-infrared light to pierce galactic dust to see more distant stars. She’s also hoping NASA’s upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Telescope might survey the galactic disk, providing information scientists could use to reconstruct the Milky Way’s ISM in 3D beyond the center of the galaxy. That “would be a total game changer for galactic astronomy,” she says.
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