Nobody Has Seen This Before
blobs in space, but astronomers using the Spitzer Space
Telescope reported on Wednesday they have found a nebula
twisted like the double helix of DNA.
"Nobody has ever seen anything like that before in the
cosmic realm," said Mark Morris of the University of
California, Los Angeles. Most nebulae are "formless, amorphous
conglomerations of dust and gas," Morris said in a statement,
adding that this one "indicates a high degree of order."
The discovery of the twisted nebula, which stretches across
80 light-years at the center of the Milky Way, the galaxy that
includes Earth, was reported in the current edition of the
A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light
travels in a year.
"We see two intertwining strands wrapped around each other
as in a DNA molecule," said Morris, lead author of the Nature
DNA, which forms the basic material in chromosomes, has a
molecule that looks like a twisted ladder, known as a double
The strands of the nebula may be torqued by twisted
magnetic fields at the Milky Way’s center, Morris said by
These magnetic fields are indirectly spawned by the gaping
black hole at the galactic heart, he said. Black holes are
massive matter-sucking drains in space, pulling in everything
around them so powerfully that not even light can escape.
But before the matter falls into the black hole, it swirls
around its edges. This rotation twists the magnetic fields,
which in turn twist the nebula’s strands, Morris said.
The nebula is relatively close to the black hole, just 300
light-years away. Earth is more than 25,000 light-years away.
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope detects the infrared energy
emitted by objects in space with high sensitivity and
resolution, enabling it to clearly see the nebula’s distinctive
03/15/06 13:43 EST