Astronomy: Earth could be surrounded by a giant magnetic tunnel, according to a wacky new study: the results, explained

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Representative image. | Photo credit: iStock images

Highlights

  • For years we have been familiar with the north polar spur and the fan region, visible at opposite ends of the radio sky. Yet to date, astronomers have come to study these galactic structures independently.
  • West’s study, however, puts forward a case that the two structures can be connected via a complex system of charged particles and magnetized filaments.
  • Playing with various parameters such as distance, the team was able to determine what was the best fit for these structures, theorizing that they are both around 350 light years from our solar system.

As the instruments we use to observe the universe become more and more refined, it is inevitable that we will end up looking at cosmic structures and objects that we cannot really explain.

But a study led by Jennifer West, a research associate at the Dunlap Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics, sought to reconcile the observations we made of our galaxy as early as the 1960s. The study, published last week in the journal Science, postulates that the Earth, and indeed our entire solar system, could be surrounded by a giant magnetic tunnel.

For years we have been familiar with the north polar spur and the fan region, visible at opposite ends of the radio sky. Yet to date, astronomers have come to study these galactic structures independently.

West’s study, however, puts forward a case that the two structures can be connected via a complex system of charged particles and magnetized filaments. In doing so, West and his team hypothesized that the structures resemble a tunnel that surrounds our solar system with several stars nearby.

“If we were to look up at the sky,” she says, “we would see this tunnel-like structure in just about every direction we look, that is, if we had eyes capable of see radio light.

What has made these structures difficult to study is the fact that it is difficult to determine how far away they actually are. Theories range from hundreds of light years to thousands. Using a computer model, West and his team were able to show how the two regions, as well as the radio loops between them, can be linked, ending several issues that have long been associated with them.

“A few years ago, one of my co-authors, Tom Landecker, told me about a 1965 article on the beginnings of radio astronomy. Based on the raw data available at the time, the authors hypothesized that these polarized radio signals could come from our view of the local arm of the galaxy, from within, ”West noted.

“This article inspired me to develop this idea and link my model to the much better data our telescopes provide us today.”

Playing with various parameters such as distance, the team was able to determine what was the best fit for these structures, theorizing that they are both around 350 light years from our solar system.

These estimates were, in large part, consistent with the distance from the north polar spur suggested by earlier data from Gaia. They were also more or less consistent with previous observations of the north polar spur and the fan region, such as their shape and the polarization of the electromagnetic radiation coming from them. In total, West and his colleagues estimated the total length of the tunnel to be around 1,000 light years.

West’s team plans to perform more complex modeling, suggesting that increased sensitivity and higher resolution observations could reveal more complex links between how “rope-shaped filaments” interact with the larger one. galaxy.

“Magnetic fields do not exist in isolation. They all have to connect with each other. So the next step is to better understand how this local magnetic field connects to both the larger-scale galactic magnetic field and the smaller-scale magnetic fields of our Sun and Earth, ”West explained.


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