Scientists discover giant balloon-like structures at the center of the Milky Way
- New hourglass-shaped structure is said to be one of the largest in the Milky Way
- Scientists using the MeerKAT telescope array revealed it in a new paper
- They say twin bubbles likely formed from high energy burst millions of years ago
Astronomers have discovered an enormous structure hiding in our own backyard.
An international team using the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) MeerKAT telescope says it’s detected a pair of huge bubbles at the center of the Milky Way, appearing like a massive hourglass.
It’s said to be one of the largest structures ever observed in our galaxy, and is likely the result of a high-energy eruption near the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole millions of years ago.
Despite existing for so long in our home galaxy, it’s only recently become possible to spot thanks to MeerKAT’s advanced instruments, which can detect radio emissions even through dense clouds of space dust.
A radio image of the central portions of the Milky Way is shown above, with bright spots representing the plane of the galaxy, with the new bubbles extending vertically above and below
Scientists described the hourglass-shaped structure in a new paper published this week in the journal Nature.
According to the team, it stretches hundreds of light-years tall.
‘The center of our galaxy is relatively calm when compared to other galaxies with very active central black holes,’ said Ian Heywood of the University of Oxford, first author of the study.
‘Even so, the Milky Way’s central black hole can – from time to time – become uncharacteristically active, flaring up as it periodically devours massive clumps of dust and gas.
‘It’s possible that one such feeding frenzy triggered a powerful outburst that inflated this previously unseen feature.’
The research is the first to be published that relies on data collected using MeerKAT’s full 64-dish array. The telescope launched last summer.
According to the team, the new discovery could help to solve previous mysteries, providing answers on the nature of magnetic filaments that have been spotted since the 1980s.
These radio structures are tens of light-years long and just one light-year wide.
‘The radio bubbles discovered with MeerKAT now shed light on the origin of the filaments,’ said Farhad Yusef-Zadeh from Northwestern University.
‘Almost all of the more than 100 filaments are confined by the radio bubbles.’
An international team using the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) MeerKAT telescope says it’s detected a pair of huge bubbles at the center of the Milky Way. Artist’s impression
The team conducted ultra-precise observations of the center of our galaxy using the MeerKAT array, revealing these ‘twin bubbles’ are nearly identical in extent and morphology.
It’s said to be one of the largest structures ever observed in our galaxy. The Milky Way pictured above
This suggests they were formed during a violent burst, which erupted through the interstellar medium in opposite directions.
‘These enormous bubbles have until now been hidden by the glare of extremely bright radio emission from the center of the galaxy,’ said Fernando Camilo of SARAO in Cape Town.
‘Teasing out the bubbles from the background noise was a technical tour de force, only made possible by MeerKAT’s unique characteristics and ideal location.
‘With this unexpected discovery we’re witnessing in the Milky Way a novel manifestation of galaxy-scale outflows of matter and energy.’
HOW OLD IS THE OLDEST STAR IN THE MILKY WAY?
Scientists in Spain have discovered one of the oldest stars in the Milky Way
A newly discovered star is thought to be one of the oldest in the Milky Way.
Scientists at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in Spain believe that it might have formed about 300 million years after the ‘Big Bang’.
IAC researcher Jonay González Hernández said: ‘Theory predicts that these stars could form just after, and using material from, the first supernovae, whose progenitors were the first massive stars in the Galaxy.’
Researchers hope the star, known as J0815+4729, which is in line with the Lynx constellation, will help them learn more about the Big Bang, the popular theory about the galaxy’s evolution.
IAC director Rafael Rebolo said: ‘Detecting lithium gives us crucial information related to Big Bang nucleosynthesis. We are working on a spectrograph of high resolution and wide spectral range in order to be able to measure (among other things) the detailed chemical composition of stars with unique properties such as J0815+4729.’