(ORDO NEWS) — New image of the Milky Way’s heart reveals mysterious structures we’ve never seen before.
Images taken with the ultra-sensitive MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa show almost 1,000 filaments of magnetic filaments up to 150 light-years long, arranged surprisingly neatly.
This is 10 times the number of these strands we knew about before, adding important statistics that may finally help us understand their nature, a mystery since their discovery in the 1980s.
“We have been studying individual filaments from a different perspective for a long time,” says astrophysicist Farhad Yousef-Zadeh of Northwestern University, who originally discovered the filaments.
“Now we see the big picture – a panoramic view filled with many threads. Simply examining a few strands makes it difficult to draw any real conclusion about what they are and where they came from.”
Although it is only about 25,000 light-years away (which is not very far in space terms), the center of the Milky Way galaxy is very difficult to see. It is shrouded in dense clouds of dust and gas that block some wavelengths of light, including the optical range. But we can use technology to tune our vision to invisible wavelengths.
MeerKAT, operated by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), is one of the most advanced radio telescopes in the world, and since its launch in 2016, it has been giving us an unparalleled view of the galactic center.
Its latest image was built from 200 hours of observational data collected over three years and shows us the area in the radio band with unsurpassed clarity and depth.
Yousef-Zadeh and his team then used a method to remove the background from the image, detecting magnetic strings distributed in clusters around the galactic center.
It is unclear what they are and how they appeared. What we do know is that they contain cosmic ray electrons spinning in filaments of magnetic fields at close to the speed of light.
The new data also revealed a new mystery. The filaments are distributed in groups or clusters, and within these clusters they are arranged very evenly – like the strings of a harp, the researchers say.
The next step is to study each strand and characterize its properties for a complete catalog, which will allow for in-depth statistical analysis.
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