The Milky Way's Mysterious Magnetic Filaments

The Mysterious Magnetic Filaments of the Milky Way
Mysterious Magnetic Filaments of the Milky Way - A mosaic image of the Milky Way's entrance in radio waves. Filaments are vertical slashes throughout the image. (Image credit: Northwestern University/SAORO/Oxford University)

The older and larger magnetic structures of other galaxies are quite similar to our own. Astronomers reported earlier this year that they had found about 1.000 magnetic filaments surrounding the core of the Milky Way galaxy. Although some of these structures have been known for forty years, scientists have not yet been able to provide an adequate explanation for them. The discovery of numerous additional structures further increased the complexity of the problem. Now that similar formations have been discovered further afield, astronomers believe there are two possible explanations.

Magnetic fields in space are actually quite common, so they're not that mysterious. Yet these magnetic filaments are rather strange. Radio waves are used to detect them; If only they could be seen by ordinary telescopes, the lens would appear to be covered with hair.

Using telescopes at greater distances, the researchers found filaments surrounding a galaxy cluster one billion light-years from Earth. Numerous active radio galaxies are among the thousands of galaxies that call this region their home. These appear to be ideal environments for the development of magnetic filaments that are both older and larger than those observed in the center of the Milky Way.

Farhad Yusef-Zadeh of Northwestern University said in a statement: "We know a lot about filaments in our own Galactic Center, and now filaments in the outer galaxies are starting to emerge as a new population of extragalactic filaments." “Despite very different environments, the basic physical mechanics for both filament populations are comparable. Objects are related, but filaments outside the Milky Way are much older, more distant cousins—in terms of both time and space.

The Milky Way's position and other locations suggest a correlation between supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies and the jets of material that appear when they go into a feeding frenzy.

The galaxy cluster's filaments are 100 to 10.000 times longer than those of the Milky Way, with some reaching 700.000 light-years in length. In the Milky Way, filaments are about 150 light-years long and rise near our supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. This is 4-5 times larger than the entire Milky Way. It must have taken a very long time for the electrically charged particles to form.

“After many years of working on the filaments in our Galactic Center, I was delighted to see these incredibly beautiful structures,” said Zadeh.

These filaments have also been discovered in other parts of the universe, suggesting that a universal event is taking place.

One feature not seen in the Milky Way is that the extragalactic filaments appear to exist at roughly a 90-degree angle to the path of the black hole jet. However, they carry energy using the same methods and have the same length-to-width ratio as our native filaments.

One possibility is that a gas cloud is interacting with the galactic wind of electrically charged particles produced by a rotating galaxy. The result is a structure with a comet-like tail that is ideal for magnetic filaments.

The second hypothesis is based on simulations where a turbulent environment generates filamentous structures by generating eddies in the presence of a weak magnetic field.

It's surprising that these structures have ever existed in space and time, but more observations are needed to fully understand what's going on.

Zadeh continued: “All these filamentous structures outside of our galaxy are really ancient. “They almost seem to belong to a different time in the history of the universe, but they still let the inhabitants of the Milky Way know that the filaments share a common ancestor. I find that surprising.”

Source: iflscience – DR. ALFREDO CARPINETI

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