Phenomena at the heart of the Milky Way revealed

A new research study has unveiled ferocious phenomena at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, potentially providing details of our galaxy’s evolution.

The investigation, conducted by astronomer Daniel Wang from the University of Massachusetts, has revealed an enigmatic cosmic occurrence at the heart of the Milky Way, utilising NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory to detail an X-ray thread called G0.17-0.41. The findings may help expound the Milky Way’s origins and the possible energy flow that governs it.

Photographs of the research are published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Wang said: “The galaxy is like an ecosystem. We know the centres of galaxies are where the action is and play an enormous role in their evolution. However, whatever has happened in the centre of our galaxy is hard to study, despite its relative proximity to Earth, because it is obscured by a dense fog of gas and dust.”

To overcome this interstellar smog, Wang employed NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which unlike powerful telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope, uses X-rays, as opposed to the visible light that we see, meaning it can successfully permeate galactic fog.

The results provide the most pristine images yet of two X-ray emitting plumes transpiring in proximity to the massive black hole at the epicentre of the Milky Way, with the study also detecting an X-ray thread near the southern plume called G0.17-0.41.

“This thread reveals a new phenomenon; this is evidence of an ongoing magnetic field reconnection event. The thread probably represents only the tip of the reconnection iceberg,” says Wang.

Magnetic field reconnection events are violent processes in which two opposing magnetic fields amalgamate, exerting colossal quantities of energy, and is understood to instigate solar flares – weather from space capable of damaging communication systems and power grids on Earth.  Additionally, these events cause the Northern Lights, with scientists now hypothesising that magnetic reconnection can occur in interstellar space, predominantly around the expanding plumes of a galaxy’s centre.

Wang said: “What is the total amount of energy outflow at the centre of the galaxy? How is it produced and transported? And how does it regulate the galactic ecosystem? These are the fundamental questions whose answers will help unlock the history of our galaxy.”

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