Astrophysicists have discovered 1,000 magnetic ‘strands’ of the Milky Way

A multicolored image shows long vertical streaks of magnetic filaments in the Milky Way's core.

A new mosaic image taken by the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa has revealed nearly 1,000 strands of electrons light-years away from the center of the Milky Way. Strands are huge trails of cosmic ray particles; although they were discovered nearly 40 years ago, researchers had no idea there were so many.

The MeerKAT network is just one part of the huge square kilometer network, which studies galactic evolution and cosmic magnetism, among others. The recent image – comprising 20 separate observations in radio wavelengths and totaling 144 hours – revealed 10 times more filaments than previously known. The team’s research is currently hosted on the arXiv preprint server and has been accepted for publication in the letters from the Astrophysical Journal.

“We studied individual filaments for a long time with myopic vision,” said Farhad Yusuf-Zadeh, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University and lead author of the paper, at a university. Release. “Now we finally see the big picture – a panoramic view filled with an abundance of filaments.”

Armed with the new image of the strands, a group of astrophysicists recently conducted population studies of the massive one-dimensional structures, which stretch up to 150 light-years in length. and are composed of electrons that interact with a magnetic field. The structures appear in pairs or small groups, making them look like massive stripes stretching across the center of the galaxy.

Several large white radio dishes over the brush covered South African landscape.

The MeerKAT array of 64-dish telescopes in South Africa in 2018.
Photo: MOUJAHID SAFODIEN / AFP (Getty Images)

The origin of the filaments remains unknown, but seeing a bunch of structures at once helped the team narrow down their list of suspects. Variations in the radiation emitted by the filaments have led the team to conclude that the strands are likely related to explosions of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A*, rather than the supernova product, or the explosive death of the stars.

Yusuf-Zadeh told Gizmodo in an email that Sagittarius A* activity could have shaped cosmic rays into magnetized tails. The situation could be “similar to cometary tails when solar winds interact with a comet or planet,” he said.

Forward, the team plans to expand the region they observe, in hopes of finding more information about the filaments and their origin. Together with images from other observatories, such as the forthcoming Rubin Observatory in Chile, the findings could help explain what sort of antics cause these phenomena at the hearts of galaxies.

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