File under "unexplained phenomena": elongated nebulae in the Milky Way's centre seem to lie parallel to the plane of the galactic disc, hinting at an underlying pattern.
Bryan Rees of the University of Manchester, UK, found the strange alignment after studying 44 such nebulae. His findings bolster observations made in 2008 by Walter Weidmann of Cordoba Observatory in Argentina and Ruben Diaz of the Gemini Observatory in Chile. Rees presented his results at the UK National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, UK, last month.
The Astronomical Research Center (A.R.C) mentioned that the structures are thought to result from the interaction between pairs of stars. As one ageing star breathes out its gases while whirling around a companion, it creates a planetary nebula that stretches out perpendicular to the plane of the stars' orbits. So the nebular alignment hints at an underlying alignment of stellar pairs.
Albert Zijlstra, Rees's adviser at Manchester, speculates that powerful magnetic fields might have once girded the galaxy's central stellar bulge and guided the tilt of star-forming gas clouds.
But Mike Edmunds of the University of Cardiff, UK, cautions that the apparent alignment might be due to an unknown observational bias that favours finding nebulae parallel to the galactic disc, rather than a real effect. "Spatial statistics is a minefield," he told New Scientist. He urges the team to recheck their analysis.