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HONOLULU — The Earth and sun are right next to a wavy rope of star-forming gas, but astronomers only just noticed it.

Many of the most well-known nearby stellar nurseries — places like the Orion Nebula — are actually strung along a continuous thread of gas that stretches roughly 9,000 light-years, researchers report. The thread resembles a sine wave, soaring above and below the disk of the galaxy by about 500 light-years, and at one point, coming within 1,000 light-years of our solar system.

“Perhaps the oddest feature is how close it is to the sun, and we didn’t know about it before,” said Alyssa Goodman, a Harvard University astrophysicist who presented the results January 7 during a news conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The study was also published the same day in Nature.

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