The Radcliffe Wave at Radcliffe

João Alves, 2018–2019 Radcliffe Institute Fellow

Alyssa Goodman, Harvard University 

Using data from the European Space Agency Gaia satellite, in combination with ground-based observations, we have discovered a monolithic, undulating gas structure—the largest ever seen in our Milky Way galaxy—made up of interconnected stellar nurseries. Dubbed the “Radcliffe Wave,” as the discovery was established at Radcliffe, this new structure is situated in our galactic “neighborhood” and replaces the 150-year-old paradigm for the structure of the local Milky Way known as Gould’s Belt (an expanding ring of gas) into one featuring a remarkably narrow and long undulating star-forming filament reaching trillions of miles below and above our Milky Way. This finding, recently published in Nature, disputes the Gould Belt model and constitutes a first step in the revision of the local gas distribution and galactic structure. The new structure offers a new and broader context for studies on the transformation of gas into stars, galactic structure, and the formation of the Milky Way. With the proposed exploratory seminar we want to invite the world leaders in interstellar medium research to address three simple questions: 1) what is the origin of the Radcliffe Wave, 2) how common are these structures, and 3) what implications do they bring to cosmology, galactic structure, and the origin of stars and planets. We were successfully awarded a Radcliffe exploratory seminar on this topic in January 2020 but are reapplying with the goal of holding an in-person workshop.