(CNN) – The center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, is home to many interesting features, including nearly a thousand mysterious magnetic strands, according to a new telescope image.
Pairs and groups of filaments span approximately 150 light-years in length and are equally spaced.
The strange structures are a few million years old and vary in appearance. Some resemble harp strings, waterfalls, or even rings around Saturn.
But the true nature of the strands remains elusive.
Farhad Yousefzadeh, a professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University, first discovered filaments 35 years ago through radio waves. He determined that the filaments are made of cosmic ray electrons that move their magnetic fields at nearly the speed of light. However, the origin of these strands remains a mystery.
Now, astronomers have been able to find ten times more leads than the previous discovery by Youssefzadeh, using the MeerKAT telescope of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory.
A detailed study of these findings has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“We have long studied single filaments with myopia,” Youssefzadeh, lead author of the study and a member of the Northwestern Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Exploration in Astrophysics, said in a statement.
“Now, we finally see the big picture: an overview filled with a plethora of leads. Just looking at a few leads makes it hard to draw a real conclusion about what they are and where they came from. This is a turning point in merchandising.” our understanding of these structures.
The new detailed image actually consists of a mosaic of 20 different observations taken over three years while looking toward the far center of the Milky Way, 25,000 light-years from Earth.
In addition to the long filaments, the image shows signatures of star birth and the remnants of supernovae through radio emissions. Yousefzadeh and his research team focused only on the leads and isolated them from other phenomena captured in the image.
“It’s like modern art,” he said. “These images are so beautiful and rich, and their mystery makes them all the more interesting.”
The team’s analysis of the filaments showed that the amount of radiation differs from other active cosmic events, such as supernova remnants. Scientists believe the filaments are likely related to past activity caused by the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way rather than by exploding stars.
The team also determined that magnetic fields are stronger along the leads.
Studying a larger set of leads allows scientists to better understand them, although many mysteries remain.
“If you were from another planet, for example, and you met a tall person on Earth, you might assume that all people are tall,” Yousefzadeh said. “But if you do statistics on a group of people, you can find the average height. That’s exactly what we do. We can find the strength of magnetic fields, their lengths, their directions, the spectrum of radiation.”
As the team works to identify each filament, they are still trying to figure out the ordered and equal distance between groups of filaments, why the particles are accelerating, or whether the filaments move over time.
“Every time we answer a question, many other questions arise,” Yousefzadeh said. “How are electrons accelerated to approach the speed of light? One idea is that there are some sources at the end of these filaments that accelerate these particles.”
The leads may be related to an earlier discovery that Youssefzadeh and his team made in 2019: structures giant balloons In the heart of the galaxy.
Many more studies of the filaments will be published in the future, and scientists hope to discover how they fit together among the tangles of objects near the center of the Milky Way.
“We hope to hit rock bottom, but more observations and theoretical analysis are needed,” he said. “To fully understand complex things takes time.”
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