Hundreds of strange filaments discovered in the center of the Milky Way

Once thought of as artifacts that needed to be erased from a researcher’s grasp, nearly a thousand strands at the center of the Milky Way galaxy now mark significant advances in astronomical research.

strange strands

About 25,000 light-years from Earth, one-dimensional filaments were first discovered in the 1980s by Northwestern University Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences professor of physics and astronomy Farhad Yusef-Zadeh. , then a graduate student. At the time, Yusef-Zadeh only identified 100 strands but, with the help of technology, researchers have now identified nearly 10 times more and are close to finding the objects’ origins.

According to a study published on February 2 in Letters from the Astrophysical Journal, the strange strands are believed to consist of cosmic ray electrons moving through a magnetic field at near light speed. They appear in equidistant clusters or pairs covering an area of ​​about 150 light-years. Yusef-Zadeh says the significance of the findings comes from the idea that most celestial bodies in the universe have a source of acceleration, such as black holes. However, these filaments are very high energy – and without a direct source.

look deeper

Over the past three years, Yusef-Zadeh and other researchers have worked with the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory’s MeerKAT Telescope to map much of these mysterious strings. The professor notes that using this facility has been beneficial as the 64 telescopes have spent more than 200 hours observing the objects.

The team then created a mosaic image of the filaments by putting together 20 different images taken over those three years. Yusef-Zadeh says it was difficult to combine so many data sets into one cohesive piece.

“It was a huge amount of data with a lot of different fields. It can be quite complicated and time consuming to line up all the different fields,” he says. “Much of the credit goes to Ian Heywood.”

Heywood, an astrophysicist at Oxford University, will soon publish a paper – co-authored by Yusef-Zadeh – using MeerKAT data. He helped compose the image as well as capture radio transmissions from other stars and celestial bodies in the meantime.

“I spent a lot of time looking at this image working on it, and I never get tired of it,” Heywood said in a press release. “When I show this image to people who might be new to radio astronomy, or unfamiliar with it, I always try to emphasize that radio imaging wasn’t always like this, and what a leap forward MeerKAT really is. in terms of its capabilities. It has been a real privilege to work over the years with colleagues from SARAO who have built this fantastic telescope.

To create the clearest image, the researchers isolated the strands in the images to eliminate other background objects. To do this, they borrowed an algorithm from astronomers taking images of solar loops. Yusef-Zadeh says the strands at the center of the galaxy share characteristics with the narrow structures we see “bursting and tearing” from the surface of stars.

The mysteries remain

If researchers are now able to visualize these objects, knowing where they come from is a little more complicated. Yusef-Zadeh says there are two possible candidates to explain the phenomenon. He explained that the center of the Milky Way is turbulent and chaotic, which can create self-generating strands. The other possibility is that they are generated by a compact source which has not yet been identified.

Later this year, Yusef-Zadeh hopes to publish another paper detailing individual length distribution, separation, bends, and filament magnetism, among other characteristics. The results could shed some light on why these objects look the way they do.

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