Astronomers discover giant arc spanning a third of the night sky

Astronomers have discovered a giant arc of hydrogen gas near the Big Dipper that span a third of the night sky and is thought to be the leftover shockwave from a supernova.

Ultraviolet and narrowband photography have captured the thin and extremely faint trace of hydrogen gas arcing across 30°. The arc, presented at the recent virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, is probably the pristine shockwave expanding from a supernova that occurred some 100,000 years ago, and it’s a record-holder for its sheer size on the sky.

Andrea Bracco (University of Paris) and colleagues came upon the Ursa Major Arc serendipitously when looking through the ultraviolet images archived by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX). They were looking for signs of a straight, 2° filament that had been observed two decades ago — but they found out that that length of gas was less straight than they thought, forming instead a small piece of a much larger whole.

This is a great illustration of the uncertainty of science. Earlier observations spotted only 2 degrees of this arc, and thus thought it was a straight filament. Newer more sophisticated observations show that this first conclusion was in error, that it was much bigger, and curved.

I wonder what even more and better observations would reveal.