These mysterious structures likely originated a few million years ago when an outflow from Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way, interacted with surrounding material.
It came as a surprise to suddenly find a new population of structures that appear to point in the black hole’s direction, said Northwestern University astronomer Farhad Yusef-Zadeh.
I was truly amazed when I saw these. We had to work hard to establish that we weren’t kidding ourselves.
And we found that these filaments are not random but appear to be related to the outflow from our black hole.
By studying them, we could learn more about the spin of black holes and the orientation of the accretion disk.
It’s satisfying when you find order amidst a chaotic field at the core of our Galaxy.
In the 1980s, Professor Yusef-Zadeh and colleagues discovered giant one-dimensional filaments dangling vertically near Sagittarius A*.
They also discovered two giant radio-emitting bubbles near the supermassive black hole.
Then, they revealed nearly 1,000 upright strands, which appeared in pairs and groups, often stacked evenly spaced or next to each other like strings on a harp.
After studying the vertical filaments for decades, Professor Yusef-Zadeh was shocked to discover their horizontal counterparts, which he says are around 6 million years old.
We have always thought about vertical filaments and their origin. I’m used to being vertical. I never thought there might be others along the plane, she said.
To locate the filaments, the astronomers used a technique to remove background and smooth out the noise from images captured by the MeerKAT telescope at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) in Cape Town, South Africa, to isolate the filaments. from the surrounding structures.
MeerKAT’s new observations were a game changer, said Professor Yusef-Zadeh.
The advancement of technology and the time devoted to observation have provided us with new information. It is really a technical achievement of radio astronomers.
According to the team, the vertical filaments are perpendicular to the galactic plane; the horizontal filaments are parallel to the plane but point radially towards the center of the Galaxy where the black hole is located.
Vertical filaments are magnetic and relativistic; horizontal filaments appear to emit thermal radiation.
The vertical filaments enclose particles moving at speeds close to the speed of light; the horizontal filaments appear to accelerate the thermal material into a molecular cloud.
There are several hundred vertical filaments and only a few hundred horizontal filaments.
And the vertical filaments, which measure up to 150 light-years in height, far outnumber the horizontal filaments, which measure only 5 to 10 light-years in length.
Vertical filaments also adorn the space around the core of the Galaxy; the horizontal filaments appear to spread out to one side only, pointing towards the black hole.
One of the most important implications of the radial outflow we detected is the orientation of the accretion disk and jet-driven outflow from Sagittarius A* along the galactic plane, said Professor Yusef-Zadeh.
A paper on the results was published in Letters from the astrophysicist diary.
F. Yusef-Zadeh et al. 2023. Galactic center filament population: position angle distribution reveals collimated degree-scale outflow from Sgr A* along the galactic plane. ApJL 949, L31; doi:10.3847/2041-8213/acd54b
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