London: Brazilian astronomers have for the first time found two star clusters forming in a remote part of our Milky Way galaxy.
The Milky Way galaxy has a barred spiral shape, with arms of stars, gas and dust winding out from a central bar. Viewed from the side, the Galaxy would appear relatively flat, with most of the material in a disc and the central regions.
Stars form inside massive and dense clumps of gas in so-called giant molecular clouds (GMCs) that are mainly located in the inner part of the galactic disc.
With many clumps in a single GMC, most (if not all) stars are born together in clusters.
The team, led by Denilso Camargo of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil, looked at data from NASA's orbiting Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) observatory.
They not only found GMCs thousands of light years above and below the galactic disc, but that one of them unexpectedly contained two clusters of stars.
This is the first time astronomers have found stars being born in such a remote location.
The new clusters, named Camargo 438 and 439, are within the molecular cloud HRK 81.4-77.8.
This cloud is thought to be about 2 million years old and is around 16,000 light years beneath the galactic disk, an enormous distance away from the usual regions of star formation, in the direction of the constellation of Cetus.
Denilso believes there are two possible explanations. First could be the Chimney Model according to which violent events such as supernova explosions eject dust and gas out of the galactic disk. The material then falls back, in the process merging to form GMCs.
The other idea is that the interaction between our Galaxy and its satellites, the Magellanic Clouds, may have disturbed gas that falls into the Galaxy, again leading to the creation of GMCs and stars.
"Our work shows that the space around the Galaxy is a lot less empty that we thought. The new clusters of stars are truly exotic," Denilso said.
"In a few million years, any inhabitants of planets around the stars will have a grand view of the outside of the Milky Way, something no human being will probably ever experience.
"Now we want to understand how the ingredients for making stars made it to such a distant spot. We need more data and some serious work on computer models to try to answer this question," he said.
The research is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.