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Double helix nebulaAstronomers have found a double helix-shaped nebula using the infra-red Spitzer Space Telescope. The discovery, reported today in Nature, is unlike most star-forming regions, which are more like amorphous clouds.

The double-helix nebula is around 80 light years in length, and is located near at the centre of the galaxy 25,000 light years away from Earth. Lead author of the report, UCLA professor Mark Morriss, described the phenonemon: "We see two intertwining strands wrapped around each other as in a DNA molecule."

The double helix nebula is just 300 light years from the enormous black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. The strong gravitational forces in the region are responsible for twisting the gas clouds into shape.

Morriss explains: "We know the galactic centre has a strong magnetic field that is highly ordered and that the magnetic field lines are oriented perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy. If you take these magnetic field lines and twist them at their base, that sends what is called a torsional wave up the magnetic field lines."

Morriss says the forces twisted the gas clouds around one another into the distinctive double helix: "Nobody has ever seen anything like that before in the cosmic realm," he bragged. ®

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