A 'lump' of dark matter may be ripping apart Taurus' face

The Hyades — a young, V-shaped cluster of stars swooshing through the head of the constellation Taurus — is slowly being ripped apart by an enormous, invisible mass, a new study suggests. This unrest in the bull’s head could point to an ancient cache of dark matter left over from the Milky Way‘s creation, the study authors said.

In the new paper, published March 24 in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, researchers used data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia star-mapping satellite to investigate the history of the Hyades. Located about 150 light-years from Earth, this family of several hundred stars is the closest star cluster to our solar system, and it’s clearly visible in the night sky. (One of its brighter stars, Epsilon Tauri, is also called the “Bull’s eye” for its prominent position on the face of Taurus.)

Astronomers estimate that the cluster is between 600 million and 700 million years old (a cosmic infant compared with our sun’s 4.6 billion years), and has already changed shape significantly in that time, thanks to the gravitational influence of other nearby clusters and objects. The authors of the new study wanted to learn more about those changes by studying the cluster’s “tails” — two stretched-out clumps of stars separated from the bulk of the cluster’s body, one aiming toward the Milky Way’s center and the other trailing away from it.

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The Hyades star cluster, located in the head of Taurus, is slowly being pulled apart by an invisible monster.  (Image credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO; acknowledgement: S. Jordan/T. Sagrista)

Tidal tails, as astronomers call them, form naturally as the result of gravitational interactions between groups of stars. To see the tails at their clearest and most spectacular, scientists look to merging