NASA has released an image detailing the never-before-seen “violent energy” at the center of our galaxy, created after two decades of research.
The stunning panorama was compiled using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa.
Images also documented an X-ray thread known as G0.17-0.41 that researchers say suggests a mechanism that could control the energy flow, and even the evolution of the Milky Way.
“The galaxy is like an ecosystem,” University of Massachusetts Amherst astronomer Daniel Wang explained in a statement. “We know the centers of galaxies are where the action is and play an enormous role in their evolution.”
Our own galaxy is hard to study as it is obscured by a fog of gas and dust. But researchers were able to penetrate the fog using the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which sees X-rays instead of visible light.
The research, published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, gives the clearest picture to date of a pair of X-ray emitting plumes coming from the area near the black hole at the center of the galaxy.
Researchers were especially interested in the X-ray thread G0.17-0.41, which, according to Wang, “reveals a new phenomenon.”
“This is evidence of an ongoing magnetic field reconnection event.” The thread, writes Wang, probably represents “only the tip of the reconnection iceberg.”
Magnetic field reconnection events occur when opposing magnetic fields are forced together and combine, expelling lots of energy. These events produce Northern Lights, and are responsible for phenomena like solar flares.
“It’s a violent process,” Wang said.
Scientists now think that magnetic reconnection also takes place in interstellar space and occurs at the outer boundaries of the expanding plumes driven out of our galaxy’s center.