Astronomers detect ‘monster’ outflows pouring out of Milky Way’s center

Astronomers detect a monster outflow of charged particles coming out of the Milky Way’s center.

By Max Sonnenberg, The Space Reporter
Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Astronomers detect ‘monster’ outflows pouring out of Milky Way’s center

Astronomers have detected “monster” outflows pouring out of the Milky Way’s center, according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency. These outflows of charged particles from the center of the Milky Way, which extend more than halfway across the sky, have been mapped with CSIRO’s 64-m Parkes radio telescope. The “monster” outflows were spotted by an international team of astronomers from Australia, the USA, Italy and The Netherlands.

“These outflows contain an extraordinary amount of energy — about a million times the energy of an exploding star,” said CSIRO’s Dr. Ettore Carretti in a statement.

We can all breath a deep sigh of relief that not only did the world survive the Mayan Apocalypse of 2012, but astronomers contend that the “monster” outflows pose no threat to the Earth or the rest of the Solar System.

Solar flares, on the other hand, are much more likely to impact our planet. X-class flares, one of the strongest types of solar flares, can cause geomagnetic storms that disrupt radio communications and power grids.

Astronomers say that the speed of the outflow is supersonic, measuring approximately 1000 kilometers a second.

“That’s fast, even for astronomers,” Dr. Carretti noted. “They are not coming in our direction, but go up and down from the Galactic Plane. We are 30,000 light-years away from the Galactic Centre, in the Plane. They are no danger to us.”

According to the CSIRO, the outflows stretch 50,000 light-years out of the Galactic Plane. That distance, for those who are curious, is equal to half the diameter of the Milky Way.

Viewed from Earth, the “monster” outflows extend approximately two-thirds across the sky from horizon to horizon. Astronomers say that the outflows complement a “haze” of microwave emission previously seen by the WMAP and Planck space telescopes as well as regions of gamma-ray emission spotted with NASA’s Fermi space telescope in 2010.

Researchers note that the WMAP, Planck and Fermi observations did not offer enough evidence to intimate definitively the source of the radiation they detected. However, the new Parkes observations do.

“The options were a quasar-like outburst from the black hole at the Galactic Centre, or star-power — the hot winds from young stars, and exploding stars,” said Dr. Gianni Bernardi of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement. “Our observations tell us it’s star-power.”

Astronomers believe that the outflows of charged particles are the result of many generations of stars forming and exploding in the Galactic Center.

Astronomers came to this conclusion after measuring the outflows’ magnetic fields.

“We did this by measuring a key property of the radio waves from the outflows — their polarisation,” said Dr. Roland Crocker of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, in a statement.

Researchers think that their findings will help scientists determine how the galaxy generates and maintains its magnetic field.

“The outflow from the Galactic Centre is carrying off not just gas and high-energy electrons, but also strong magnetic fields,” said Dr. Marijke Haverkorn of Radboud University Nijmegen, in a statement. “We suspect this must play a big part in generating the Galaxy’s overall magnetic field.”

The study’s findings were recently reported in the journal Nature.

According to the organization’s website, the CSIRO is one of the “largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.” The Parkes radio telescope has been in operation since 1961 and receives regular upgrades. Parkes is used by astronomers from around the world to advance our understanding of space.


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