Galactic filaments lurk outside the Milky Way

(ORDO NEWS) — The Milky Way can hardly be called a special galaxy – inside it are at least three hundred billion stars, around which at least one planet revolves. Our Galaxy contains thousands of planetary systems similar to the Sun.

The Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years across, and our space home is located near a small arm of this spiral galaxy. Agree, this information is already enough to feel like a grain of sand in this endless, dark and expanding space.

And yet, the hunter-gatherers we have been for centuries have achieved a lot – went into outer space, sent robots to explore other planets, and created tools that opened up a small part of the universe to our eyes.

But do we know what is outside our galaxy? How far have we looked into the cosmic ocean and what conclusions have we drawn from this? Surprisingly, it has only recently become known to us that mysterious galactic filaments are located in the immediate vicinity of the Milky Way.

Our space house

The Milky Way is approximately 13.6 billion years old and the galaxy is 100,000 light-years across. In the same way that the Earth revolves around the Sun, our galaxy revolves around the center – a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*.

And despite the fact that the Milky Way is hurtling through space at a speed of about 828,000 km/h, our solar system takes about 250 million years to complete one revolution.

On a clear night, away from the city lights, you can catch a glimpse of other stars as they race across the night sky.

Our window to the universe is the milky-white band of stars, dust and gas that gives our galaxy its name. Astronomers have recently identified its shape and type by observing a population of stars moving across the sky.

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The Milky Way, together with the Andromeda Galaxy, the Triangulum Galaxy, and more than 40 dwarf satellite galaxies form the Local Group of galaxies

In fact, studying the Milky Way has been an incredibly difficult task, because at least we lack an overview. Everything changed in the early 1990s, when ground-breaking space telescopes were launched into Earth orbit.

These astronomical instruments have given us images of the solar system’s planets, and have also made it possible to discern the basic shape and structure of some of the nearby galaxies. Yet restoring the form and structure of our own galactic home has been a slow and tedious process.

As it became known, globular clusters of stars and about 40 dwarf galaxies are scattered across the disk of our spiral galaxy, which either orbit or collide with the Milky Way. This beauty is, on top of that, surrounded by a spherical halo of dust and gas, and possibly even more of a mysterious dark matter.

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The Milky Way appeared about 14 billion years ago as a result of the merger of huge clouds of gas and dust under the influence of gravity

Recall that dark matter does not enter into electromagnetic interaction, and its existence can only be judged indirectly by its gravitational effect on space objects. According to calculations, up to 90% of the galaxy’s mass is dark matter, which you can read more about here.

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Beyond the Milky Way

Our Galaxy is pierced by long magnetized filaments coming out of other galaxies and glowing in radio waves. In the early 1980s, they were discovered by astrophysicist Farhad Yusuf-Zade from Northwestern University (USA). So-called galactic filaments are large-scale structures that emerge from distant galaxies.

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The Milky Way and the galaxies of the Local Group are pierced by magnetic galactic filaments

They are believed to be the result of interactions between cosmic dust, gas clouds and the galactic wind – a powerful stream of charged particles emanating from active star formation or the collision of black holes.

Galactic filaments and voids (voids) form a kind of network – the so-called cosmic web and are the largest observable structures in the universe.

It is noteworthy that galactic filaments and voids are capable of forming “great walls” of clusters and superclusters of galaxies.

Recently, astronomers reported a new discovery – it turned out that the mysterious threads extend beyond the Milky Way. Moreover, these structures exist even in the most distant galaxies and, as the authors of the scientific work believe, take an active part in their formation.

The results of a study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters show that the filaments outside the Milky Way are much older than previously thought and are part of the same “family”.

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Galactic filaments permeate entire clusters of galaxies

Note that the very first galactic filaments, discovered in the 1980s, extended up to 150 light-years, rising near the heart of our Galaxy – the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*. (galactic filaments revolve around supermassive black holes at the centers of various galaxies).

The new study adds nearly 1,000 filaments of electrons and cosmic rays to previously discovered structures that spin along a magnetic field at near the speed of light.

Family ties

The discovered galactic filaments are located in a cluster of galaxies at a distance of one billion light-years from Earth.

Among the reasons for their formation, researchers believe, is either the interaction between galactic winds and gas and dust clouds, or turbulence in magnetic fields due to the movement of galaxies.

Thus, the filaments outside our Galaxy are 100-10,000 times longer than inside, moreover, they are much older, and their magnetic fields are weaker. However, the length and width of these mysterious filaments match those found in the Milky Way.

The results of computer simulations have shown that galactic filaments resemble the cosmic web – “threads” of mysterious dark matter in intergalactic space, forming a connected structure. In one of the previous articles, we talked in detail about this component of the cosmos, as well as voids and Laniakea.

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Thousands of galaxies together form super- and hyperclusters, the largest objects in the universe

The underlying physical mechanisms for both populations of filaments are similar despite vastly different environmental conditions.

These objects belong to the same family, but the filaments outside the Milky Way are older, the study says.

Either way, finding more filaments in four different clusters of galaxies, ranging from 163 million to 652 million light-years apart, is a huge breakthrough.

Discovered structures from another era of the Universe are signaling to the inhabitants of the Milky Way that all space objects are connected and, apparently, have a common origin.

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The Milky Way is part of a huge supercluster of galaxies – Laniakea

A new discovery was made possible thanks to a new generation of space telescopes, the sensitivity of which allows you to look through the thickness of dust and gas, hiding from us a large part of the inhabitants of the universe.

A great contribution to the study of both the closest and most distant cosmic structures and objects from us has been made possible thanks to radio astronomy, as well as the latest marvel of technology – the James Webb Space Telescope, which began work in the summer of 2022 and has already led to a series of fascinating astronomical discoveries, and also gave a new look to the Pillars of Creation.


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