Science Gazette

Nearly 1,000 unexplained strands have been discovered in the Milky Way’s core

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‘A turning point in our knowledge of these systems,’ says the author. a researcher claims

A Northwestern scientist found unexplained, massive magnetic filaments in the Milky Way galaxy’s tumultuous core more than 35 years ago. He and his team have already discovered approximately 1,000 of the bizarre structures using more modern technologies.

Nearly 1,000 mystery strands, mysteriously hanging in space, have been discovered in an astonishing new telescopic picture of the Milky Way galaxy’s tumultuous core.

The one-dimensional strands (or filaments) may stretch up to 150 light years long and are found in pairs and bunches, frequently piled evenly spaced side by side like harp strings. Farhad Yusef-Zadeh of Northwestern University found the highly ordered magnetic filaments in the early 1980s using radio frequency studies. He discovered that the mysterious filaments are made up of cosmic ray electrons gyrating in the magnetic field at almost the speed of light. Their origin, however, has remained a mystery ever since.

For the first time, Yusef-Zadeh and his colleagues can undertake statistical investigations over a large population of filaments thanks to the new photograph, which has shown 10 times more filaments than previously identified. This knowledge might perhaps aid them in solving the long-standing enigma.

The Astrophysical Journal Letters published the work online today

“We’ve been studying individual filaments with a myopic vision for a long time,” stated lead scientist Yusef-Zadeh. “At long last, we get to glimpse the vast picture — a panoramic vision brimming with filaments. It’s tough to draw any solid conclusions about what these filaments are or where they come from just by looking at a handful of them. This marks a turning point in our knowledge of these structures.”

Yusef-Zadeh is a member of the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics and a professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (CIERA).

Putting together the picture

Astronomers from the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory spent three years scanning the sky and processing data to create the picture with unparalleled clarity and detail (SARAO). Researchers cobbled together a mosaic of 20 distinct images of various parts of the sky near the center of the Milky Way galaxy, 25,000 light years from Earth, using 200 hours of time on SARAO’s MeerKAT telescope.

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The whole picture will be published in a future edition of The Astrophysical Journal in an accompanying study headed by Oxford University astronomer Ian Heywood and co-authored by Yusef-Zadeh. The picture captures radio emissions from a variety of events, including outbursting stars, stellar nurseries, and fresh supernova remnants, in addition to the filaments.

“In the course of working on this photograph, I’ve spent a lot of time gazing at it, and I never grow weary of it,” Heywood remarked. “Whenever I present this picture to individuals who are new to radio astronomy or who are inexperienced with it in any way, I try to underline how radio imaging hasn’t always been this way, and how far MeerKAT has come in terms of its capabilities.” Working with colleagues from SARAO over the years to build this amazing telescope has been a great honor.”

Yusef-team Zadeh’s employed a method to remove the backdrop from the primary picture in order to isolate the filaments from the surrounding structures in order to observe them at a finer scale. He was amazed by the image that resulted.

He described it as “contemporary art.” “These visuals are so rich and gorgeous, and the mystery of it all adds to the intrigue.”

What we are aware of

While there are still many questions about the filaments, Yusef-Zadeh has been able to put together more of the jigsaw. In their most recent publication, he and his colleagues focused on the magnetic fields of filaments and the function of cosmic rays in lighting the magnetic fields.

The change in radiation emitted by the filaments differs significantly from that emitted by the recently discovered supernova remnant, indicating that the two events are unrelated. The filaments are more likely to be linked to historical activity of the Milky Way’s center supermassive black hole than to coordinated supernovae bursts, according to the astronomers. The filaments might potentially be linked to the massive, radio-emitting bubbles observed by Yusef-Zadeh and colleagues in 2019.

While Yusef-Zadeh previously knew the filaments were magnetized, he can now add that magnetic fields are magnified along the filaments, which is a common feature across all filaments.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to look at the filaments’ statistical features,” he added. “We can learn more about the qualities of these atypical sources by studying statistics.”

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“If you came from another planet and saw one exceptionally tall person on Earth, for example, you could believe that everyone is tall.” However, if you look at data across a group of individuals, you can figure out what their average height is. That’s precisely what we’re trying to do. We can determine the intensity of magnetic fields, as well as their lengths, orientations, and emission spectra.”

We don’t know what we don’t know

Yusef-Zadeh is especially perplexed by how organized the threads look among the remaining mysteries. Filaments inside clusters are separated from one another at exactly the same distances — roughly the same as the distance between the Earth and the sun.

He described them as “nearly resembling the uniform spacing in solar circles.” “We still have no idea why they arrive in clusters or how they split, and we have no idea how these regular spacings occur.” Every time we answer one question, a slew of new ones appear.”

Yusef-Zadeh and his colleagues are also unsure if the filaments move or change over time, or what causes the electrons to accelerate at such high rates.

He inquired, “How can you accelerate electrons near the speed of light?” “One theory is that there are some sources speeding these particles at the end of these filaments.”

What comes next?

Each filament is now being identified and cataloged by Yusef-Zadeh and his colleagues. In a future investigation, the angle, curve, magnetic field, spectrum, and intensity of each filament will be disclosed. Understanding these qualities will provide additional information to the astrophysics community about the filaments’ mysterious nature.

The MeerKAT telescope, which was launched in July 2018, is always uncovering fresh mysteries.

“We’ve come a long way toward a complete understanding,” Yusef-Zadeh added. “However, science is a sequence of incremental advances at several levels. We’re trying to figure it out, but we’ll need additional data and theoretical analysis. It takes time to fully comprehend complicated items.”

NASA and the National Science Foundation funded the research, “Statistical features of the population of galactic center filaments: The spectral index and equipartition magnetic field.”

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