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Giant bubbles spotted rushing out from Milky Way’s center

“These enormous bubbles have until now been hidden by the glare of extremely bright radio emission from the center of the galaxy,” said Fernando Camilo of SARAO in Cape Town, and a co-author on the paper, in a press release. The astronomers were specifically looking at a type of radio emission called synchrotron radiation. This…

“These enormous bubbles have until now been hidden by the glare of extremely bright radio emission from the center of the galaxy,” said Fernando Camilo of SARAO in Cape Town, and a co-author on the paper, in a press release.

The astronomers were specifically looking at a type of radio emission called synchrotron radiation. This type or radiation is created when relativistic electrons — those traveling at nearly the speed of light — encounter strong magnetic fields, which imparts a particular signature on the light. Astronomers often use this type of radiation to pinpoint highly energetic regions in space.

The new discovery isn’t the first giant bubble seen escaping from the Milky Way. In 2010, astronomers discovered two similar giant bubbles of gamma ray radiation blossoming above and below the galaxy, extending a combined length of 50,000 light-years. Now known as the Fermi bubbles, the origin of these balloons of radiation is still unexplained, but likely linked to the galaxy’s central supermassive black hole. The astronomers on this latest research think that the new radio bubbles they’ve discovered may have been caused by a smaller but similar event.

“These fascinating radio bubbles provide a new window into understanding recent activity at the galactic center,” Andrew Fox, astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, Maryland, who was not involved with the new research, said via email. “Other observations taken across the electromagnetic spectrum have revealed evidence for a burst of activity several million years ago, and these new observations provide another clue. Taken together, the results show that the Milky Way blows bubbles on different scales.”

By connecting the origin location of the bubbles to the central black hole region of the galaxy, astronomers are starting to learn more about the processes in this dynamic region. It may also help them learn about events unfolding in other galaxies. Evidence for giant gamma ray bubbles, like the Fermi bubbles, have also been seen outside the Milky Way in its nearest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy.

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