A colossal shock wave propagating through space is larger than our entire galaxy

(ORDO NEWS) — A billion years ago, an absolutely monstrous collision of two clusters of galaxies produced a couple of shock waves of completely epic proportions.

Today, these structures glow brightly at radio wavelengths and are so huge that they could easily engulf the Milky Way galaxy, about 100,000 light-years in diameter, stretching 6.5 million light-years across intergalactic space.

Now, using the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa, a team of astronomers has made the most detailed study of these radio structures, gaining new insights into some of the largest events in the universe.

“These structures are full of surprises and much more complex than we originally thought,” says astronomer Francesco de Gasperin of the University of Hamburg in Germany and the National Institute of Astrophysics in Italy.

“Shock waves act like giant particle accelerators that accelerate electrons to speeds close to the speed of light. When these fast electrons cross a magnetic field, they emit the radio waves we see.”

A colossal shock wave propagating through space is larger than our entire galaxy 1                                                                                           Magnetic fields of the main wave

“The strikes are laced with an intricate pattern of bright filaments that track the position of giant magnetic field lines and regions where electrons reside.”

This particular cluster, called Abell 3667, is still coming together. At least 550 galaxies are associated with it, and shock waves propagate through it at a speed of about 1,500 kilometers per second.

Cluster merger impacts are known as radio relics, and they can be used to study the properties of intergalactic space within a cluster, known as the intracluster environment, and intracluster dynamics.

A colossal shock wave propagating through space is larger than our entire galaxy 2                                                                                            Both Abell 3667 radio relics

About 700 million light-years away, Abell 3667 is relatively close to us and also quite massive, which means it’s a great target for explorers.

Since the cluster is located in the southern part of the sky, astronomers were able to observe it with one of the most sensitive radio telescopes in the world. MeerKAT is the forerunner and pioneer of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) currently being developed in Australia and South Africa to provide unparalleled sky observation.

Observations from MeerKAT and Australia’s Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder give us a glimpse into the future.

“Our observations revealed the complexity of the interaction between thermal and non-thermal components in the most active regions of the merging cluster,” the researchers wrote.


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