Noise and chaos reigns in the heart of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, or so it seems. an astonishing image captured recently by astronomers in South Africa.
The image, taken by the MeerKAT radio telescope, an array of 64 antennas spread across five miles of desert north of South Africa, reveals a storm of activity in the central region of the Milky Way with strands of radio emission entangled and twisted in space. between energy bubbles. right in the center Sagittarius A*, a well-studied supermassive black holeradiates its own enthusiastic buzz.
We are used to seeing galaxies from afar as eggs of soft, bright light or as majestic, jeweled swirls. We rarely see the hum beneath the clouds—all the forms of madness within the reach of a hundred million or so stars.
The image was captured and analyzed by Ian Heywood of the University of Oxford and a team of astronomers led by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory. They published their results last week. in the Astrophysical Journal.
MeerKAT heralds the Square Kilometer Array, a massive antenna set planned to be built in South Africa and Australia over the next decade. When completed, it will be the most powerful radio telescope in the world for the foreseeable future.
According to visible-light telescopes, large parts of the Milky Way sky are darkened by intervening clouds of cosmic dust. However, radio waves pass through directly, making MeerKAT more up close and personal.
“The best telescopes expand our horizons in unexpected ways,” Fernando Camilo, chief scientist at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory and one of the many co-authors of the new paper, said in a news release.
Twenty separate observations were required to produce the image, generating 70 terabytes of data and requiring three years of processing. The result is a panorama of the central regions of the Milky Way 1,000 light-years wide and 600 light-years high. (The entire galaxy is 100,000 light-years in diameter, and its center is 25,000 light-years from Earth.)
The disk of the Milky Way, where most stars and exoplanets are found, appears as an irregular horizontal line in the image. A dense block of energy in the middle of the line marks the spot where a black hole four million times larger than our sun lurks. The surrounding region is filled with mysterious glowing filaments 100 light-years long.
Astronomers speculated that such filaments, first recognized 35 years ago, are composed of tubes of magnetized gas and high-energy particles. But scientists still don’t understand how they came to be. The new paper has brought together enough recent examples of such traits to examine their traits and variations as a group for the first time, the study’s authors claim.
Spreading vertically above and below the galactic disk are a pair of matching massive radio bubbles, possibly the remnants of a series of supernova explosions that occurred several million years ago. In the background, the radio image is speckled with bright spots of supermassive black holes in distant galaxies.
Dr. “I spent a lot of time looking at this painting in the process of working on it and I never got tired of it,” Heyman said.
Dr. Camilo agreed that the interior of the galaxy resembled an electrical storm. “Electrical activity is of course very important to our living animal hearts,” he added. “I think you could say that without electrical activity the center/heart of the galaxy would look very, very different if it wasn’t dead.”