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The Radcliffe Wave is oscillating

Abstract

Our Sun lies within 300 parsecs of the 2.7-kiloparsecs-long sinusoidal chain of dense gas clouds known as the Radcliffe Wave1. The structure’s wave-like shape was discovered using three-dimensional dust mapping, but initial kinematic searches for oscillatory motion were inconclusive2,3,4,5,6,7. Here we present evidence that the Radcliffe Wave is oscillating through the Galactic plane while also drifting radially away from the Galactic Centre. We use measurements of line-of-sight velocity8 for 12CO and three-dimensional velocities of young stellar clusters to show that the most massive star-forming regions spatially associated with the Radcliffe Wave (including Orion, Cepheus, North America and Cygnus X) move as though they are part of an oscillating wave driven by the gravitational acceleration of the Galactic potential. By treating the Radcliffe Wave as a coherently oscillating structure, we can derive its motion independently of the local Galactic mass distribution, and directly measure local properties of the Galactic potential as well as the Sun’s vertical oscillation period. In addition, the measured drift of the Radcliffe Wave radially outwards from the Galactic Centre suggests that the cluster whose supernovae ultimately created today’s expanding Local Bubble9 may have been born in the Radcliffe Wave.

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Fig. 1: A spatial and kinematic view of the solar neighbourhood.
Fig. 2: A view of the Radcliffe Wave and its oscillatory pattern.

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Data availability

The datasets generated and/or analysed during the current study are publicly available at the Harvard Dataverse. The 12CO radial velocities for the Radcliffe Wave are available at https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/Q7F4PC. The stellar cluster catalogue is available at https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/XSCB9N. The best-fit-model displayed in Fig. 1 is available at https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/F98QHY.

Code availability

The code used to derive the results is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. In this context, publicly available software packages, including dynesty49 and astropy57, were used. The visualization, exploration and interpretation of data presented in this work were made possible using the glue58 visualization software. The interactive figures were made possible by the plot.ly python library.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Carifio, S. Jeffreson, E. Koch, V. Semenov, G. Beane, M. Rugel, S. Meingast, A. Saydjari, J. Speagle, C. Laporte, S. Bialy, J. Großschedl, T. O’Neill, L. Randall and B. Benjamin for useful discussions. The visualization, exploration and interpretation of data presented in this work were made possible using the glue visualization software, supported under NSF grant numbers OAC-1739657 and CDS&E:AAG-1908419. A.A.G. and C.Z. acknowledge support by NASA ADAP grant 80NSSC21K0634 ‘Knitting Together the Milky Way: An Integrated Model of the Galaxy’s Stars, Gas, and Dust’. C.Z. acknowledges that support for this work was provided by NASA through the NASA Hubble Fellowship grant HST-HF2-51498.001 awarded by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., for NASA, under contract NAS5-26555. J.A. was co-funded by the European Union (ERC, ISM-FLOW, 101055318). Views and opinions expressed are, however, those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them. A.B. was supported by the Excellence Cluster ORIGINS which is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; German Research Foundation) under Germany’s Excellence Strategy – EXC-2094-390783311.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

R.K. led the work and wrote the majority of the text. All authors contributed to the text. R.K., A.A.G., C.Z. and J.A. led the data analysis. R.K., A.A.G., C.Z., A.B. and J.A. led the interpretation of the results, aided by M.F. and C.S. J.A., M.K. and N.M.-R. led the compilation of the stellar cluster catalogue. R.K. and C.Z. led the statistical modelling. R.K. and A.B. led the theoretical analysis. R.K., A.A.G. and C.Z. led the visualization efforts.

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Correspondence to Ralf Konietzka.

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Nature thanks Chervin Laporte, Erik Rosolowsky and Lawrence Widrow for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Comparison between a traveling and a standing wave.

Selected phase snapshots are shown here. In all Panels, the x axis corresponds to the x axis of a coordinate frame in which the Galactic coordinate xy frame has been rotated anticlockwise by 62°. Left Panels: The evolution of the Radcliffe Wave (stellar cluster in blue, molecular clouds in red, the best-fit-model in black) with phase. The Sun is shown in yellow. The vertical motion the Radcliffe Wave is showing corresponds to a traveling wave. We show in magenta (60°) and in green (240°) the same snapshots as in Fig. 2. Right Panels: The evolution of the Radcliffe Wave starting from the best-fit-model in black if the Wave’s motion corresponded to a standing wave. For the best experience, please view the animated version in Supplementary Fig. 4 and https://faun.rc.fas.harvard.edu/czucker/rkonietzka/radwave/interactive-figure4.html.

Extended Data Fig. 2 In-plane cluster velocities.

Panel a: The radial in-plane cluster velocities are shown in blue (inliers opaque/outliers transparent). The best fit including Galactic rotation as well as the Wave’s solid body motion of about 5 km s−1 in the radial direction (radially away from the Solar System, see Panel b) is shown in green. The x axis corresponds to the x-axis of a coordinate frame in which the Galactic coordinate xy frame has been rotated anticlockwise by 62°. Panel b (Interactive): The best fit of the Radcliffe Wave is shown in black. The direction of the Wave’s radial velocity (Panel a) is shown by the green vector. The direction of the Wave’s tangential velocity (Panel c) is shown by the magenta vector. The Sun is shown in yellow. The gray line corresponds to the x axis of Panel a and c. For the best experience, please view the interactive version in Supplementary Fig. 2 and https://faun.rc.fas.harvard.edu/czucker/rkonietzka/radwave/interactive-figure2.html. Panel c: The tangential in-plane cluster velocities are shown in blue (inliers opaque / outliers transparent). The best fit including Galactic rotation as well as the Wave’s solid body motion of about 1 km s−1 in the tangential direction (parallel to the Radcliffe Wave, see Panel b) is shown in magenta. The effect of Galactic rotation is again shown in gray. The x axis is the same as in Panel a. The typical uncertainty (1σ errors) of the in-plane motion is shown in black in the right lower corner.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Radial 12CO Velocities.

Panel a: 12CO radial velocities of entire molecular clouds along the Radcliffe Wave derived from spectral-line fitting are shown in red, including their 16th and 84th percentiles (1σ errors). Since we identified the Perseus and Taurus molecular clouds as outliers (see Methods), we do not show these clouds in this figure. The projection of our 6D best-fit-model onto the 4D phase space of the gas data is shown in black. We find that our model explains the observed 12CO spectrum, which means the velocities of the molecular clouds, for which we can only study an incomplete phase space, match the motion of the young stellar clusters. The x axis corresponds to the x axis of a coordinate frame in which the Galactic coordinate xy frame has been rotated anticlockwise by 62°. Panel b (Interactive): The Radcliffe Wave is shown spatially in 3D including the molecular clouds in red as well as the best fit in black. The Sun is shown with a yellow dot. The yellow lines represent a sample of lines of sight to illustrate the wide variety of angles along which the 12CO radial velocities were derived. For the best experience, please view the interactive version in Supplementary Fig. 3 and https://faun.rc.fas.harvard.edu/czucker/rkonietzka/radwave/interactive-figure3.html.

Extended Data Table 1 Priors on model parameters
Extended Data Table 2 Best-fit-parameters

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

A guide and links for all Supplementary Figs. 1– 6.

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Supplementary Figures

Supplementary Figs. 1–5.

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Konietzka, R., Goodman, A.A., Zucker, C. et al. The Radcliffe Wave is oscillating. Nature 628, 62–65 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-024-07127-3

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