Thousands of mysterious magnetic filaments found dangling across the Milky Way

Mosaic image of the center of the Milky Way, taken with radioactive waves. The magnetic fibers are large, vertical diagonal lines throughout the image. Provider: Northwestern University.

Sometimes astronomical discoveries are so strange that it’s hard to tell what they’re made of. This is exactly the case here.

It all started in the 1980s when researchers led by Northwestern University’s Farhad Yusef-Zadeh discovered several highly organized, magnetic filaments that appeared to stretch far beyond the galaxy’s central region. Milky Way. These yarns appear to be made of cosmic ray electrons are rotating their magnetic fields at nearly the speed of light. But why these fibers exist and what they are exactly remains a mystery.

It’s still a mystery today, but we’re closer to understanding them. In a new study, Yusef-Zadeh’s team used data from the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) – specifically, the MeerKAT radio telescope. The telescope allowed researchers to visualize the filaments in unprecedented detail, finding incredible details about them.

This labeled mosaic reveals the chaotic nature of the Milky Way’s center.

For starters, there’s more to it than previously expected. They’re essentially one-way, like strings, except these strings are about 150 light-years across. They also seem to be surprisingly orderly. In clusters, they are separated from each other at almost exactly equal distances – the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

A harp-like cluster. Provider: Northwestern University.

“They are almost the same as the usual distances in solar rings,” says Yusef-Zadeh. “We still don’t know why they cluster or understand how they separate, and we don’t know how these regular intervals occur. Every time we answer one question, more questions arise.”

They also appear to be neighbors of the galactic center, as well as remnants of the newly discovered supernova. But there is a difference: the filaments exhibit a different radiation pattern than that of the supernova, suggesting that the phenomena have different origins.

However, we still don’t know when and why they form, or exactly how electrons change their magnetic fields so quickly.

“How do you accelerate electrons close to the speed of light?” he asks. “One idea is that there’s some source at the end of these filaments that’s accelerating these particles.”

However, the fact that they discovered so many of these fibers means that researchers can actually study them statistically, and it’s possible that some information may emerge from the study. hey, Yusef-Zadeh believes. His team is currently cataloging each filament, noting its angle, curve, magnetic field, spectrum, and intensity.

“For example, if you are from another planet and you meet someone very tall on Earth, you might assume that everyone is tall. But if you count across a population, you can find the average height,” Yusef-Zadeh explained.

“That is exactly what we are doing. We can find the strength of the magnetic fields, their length, their orientation and the radiation spectrum”.

Having spent decades looking at these hairs, Yusef-Zadeh is still delighted to learn about such a unique structure. This, he stressed, is entirely possible thanks to the advent of powerful telescopes.

Heywood said: “I spent a lot of time looking at this image in the process and I never got tired of it. “When I show this image to people who may be new to radio astronomy, or aren’t used to it, I always try to emphasize that radio imaging does not always work this way and that MeerKAT does. is a giant leap in terms of its possibilities. It has been a real privilege to work for many years with the colleagues from SARAO who built this amazing telescope. “

Reference Journal: F. Yusef-Zadeh et al., Statistical properties of the population of galactic center films: Spectral and magnetic index of equipotential partitioning. arXiv: 2201.10552v1 [astro-ph.GA],

I. Heywood et al. MeerKAT 1.28 GHz Galactic Center Mosaic. arXiv: 2201.10541v1 [astro-ph.GA], Thousands of mysterious magnetic filaments found dangling across the Milky Way

James Brien

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