Our solar system is surrounded by a giant “magnetic tunnel” that connects two vast regions of our galaxy that seemed disconnected.
This is the conclusion of a recent study in the field of magnetic fields of the universe, a feature of our universe for which there are still many unanswered questions.
This discovery by a team from the University of Toronto (Canada) may be useful for a better understanding of how the universe’s magnetic fields work and how they affect the behavior and evolution of galaxies.
“This model has implications for developing a comprehensive model of magnetic fields in galaxies,” the study authors wrote.
What has been discovered and how can it help improve our understanding of the universe?
The investigation focused on two giant structures in our Milky Way known as the “North Polar Spire” (NPS) and the “Van Region” (Van).
The North Polar Spur is a huge collection of hot gases that emit X-rays and radio waves.
In turn, the fan region is a highly polarized region, the electric field of which opens out in the form of a fan. Both regions are visible through radio telescopes, and from Earth, they are located on both sides of space.
The green lines show how the magnetic filaments form a tunnel structure. – Photo: DUNLAP INSTITUTE FOR ASTRONOMY & ASTROPHYSICS
So far, these two structures have been studied individually, but work from the University of Toronto shows for the first time that they are connected by a “tunnel” in which our solar system is located.
“Magnetic fields do not exist in isolation,” says Jennifer West, a researcher in galactic magnetism at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Physics at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study.
“They all need to communicate with each other. So the next step is to better understand how this local magnetic field relates to both the large-scale galactic magnetic field and the smaller magnetic fields of our Sun and Earth.”
This image shows the region of the Milky Way galaxy where our solar system is located. The orange lines show the tunnel formed by the ventilation area (fan) and the North Polar Spur (NPS). The red dot represents the sun. – Photo: DUNLAP INSTITUTE FOR ASTRONOMY & ASTROPHYSICS
The magnetic field of galaxies
Every galaxy has a normal, but weak magnetic field, explains Christopher S. Beer, professor of physics at West Texas A&M University.
“Our galaxy’s magnetic field is about a hundred times weaker than Earth’s,” Bayer wrote in the Science Questions With Surprising Answers blog.
The magnetic field of the galaxy is created in a similar way to the magnetic field of the Earth: through the influence of the dynamo.
The rotation of the galaxy causes interstellar gas filled with charged particles to move. In this way, the kinetic energy of the moving particles creates a magnetic field.
This magnetic field, in turn, acts on the charged particles, thereby amplifying the magnetic field.
Earth’s magnetic field is 100 times stronger than the Milky Way – Image: NASA
To discover this “tunnel,” West and his colleagues ran simulations of what Earth’s space would look like if radio waves from the North Polar Spur and the Van region were beaming light.
In this way, they realized that both regions are connected by structures of magnetic filaments.
“If we could see light waves from the radio, we would see this glowing material extending across the sky in different directions,” West said.
West refers to a complex system of charged particles and magnetic filaments that form a kind of tunnel that surrounds the solar system and some of the outer stars.
According to West’s calculations, the length of this tunnel will be about 1,000 light-years.
This is how our galaxy looks in radio waves – Photo: HASLAM ET AL. (1982) with annotations by J. West.
According to the research authors, their findings may help understand other filament structures that are increasingly being observed by modern radio telescopes.
“We still do not fully understand the origin and evolution of regular magnetic fields in galaxies and how these fields are maintained,” they wrote in their study.
“Imagine we’re sitting inside a tunnel … and the rest of the galaxy is outside that tunnel, and the rest of the universe is outside that tunnel. But we’d be inside,” West said.
“Because we’re inside of it, we have to look through it all the time. I think it’s a very important first step in understanding the universe more broadly.”
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