Gathering data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa, astronomers created a new cosmic masterpiece that shows the threads of superheated gas and magnetic fields are weaving a tapestry of energy at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
One thread is incredibly captivating as it has X-ray and radio emanation intertwined. It points perpendicular toward the plane of the milky way and is around 20 light-years long, yet only 100th that size in width.
The new panorama of the Galactic Center builds on previous surveys from Chandra and other telescopes. This latest version expands Chandra’s high-energy view farther above and below the Galaxy’s plane — that is, the disk where most of the Galaxy’s stars reside — than previous imaging campaigns. In the image featured in our main graphic, X-rays from Chandra are orange, green, blue, and purple, showing different X-ray energies, and the radio data from MeerKAT are shown in lilac and gray.
A study of this thread, especially its X-ray and radio properties, suggests that these features are bound together by thin strips of magnetic fields. This is like what was seen in a formerly contemplated string.
Such strips may have framed when magnetic fields aligned in various ways, collided, and got twisted around one another in a magnetic reconnection process. This is like the wonder that drives energetic particles from the Sun and is liable for the space weather that occasionally impacts Earth.
Detailed insights of this thread reveal more about the Galactic space weather astronomers have witnessed throughout the region. The weather is driven by volatile phenomena, including supernova explosions, close-quartered stars emanating hot gas, and emissions of matter from areas near our Galaxy’s black hole.
Along with threads, the image also reveals other wonders that take place in the Galactic Center. Those wonders are large plumes of hot gas, extending about 700 light-years above and below the plane of the Galaxy, seen here in greater detail than ever before.
These plumes may represent galactic-scale outflows, practically equivalent to the particles driven away from the Sun. The cosmic explosion then heats the gas that results in multiple new magnetic reconnections near the Galaxy’s center. Such reconnection events in the Galaxy are typically not adequately lively to be distinguished in rays, aside from the most vigorous ones at the Galaxy’s center, where the interstellar magnetic field is super strong.
Events such as magnetic reconnection have a significant role in heating the gas existing between stars. This process also contributes to the acceleration of particles to generate cosmic rays like those observed on Earth and driving turbulence in the interstellar medium that triggers new generations of star birth.
The image reveals that the magnetic threads form at the outer boundaries of the large plumes of hot gas. This suggests that the gas in the plumes is driving magnetic fields that collide to create the threads.
- Q. Daniel Wang et al. Chandra large-scale mapping of the Galactic center: Probing high-energy structures around the central molecular zone. arxiv.org/abs/2010.02932