An international team of astronomers has discovered two exhaust channels dubbed “galactic center chimneys” that appear to funnel matter and energy away from the cosmic fireworks in the Milky Way’s center, about 28,000 light-years from Earth.
To better understand what becomes of that outflow of energy, Morris and his colleagues pointed the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite, which detects cosmic X-rays, toward the center of the Milky Way.
Because X-rays are emitted by extremely hot gas, they are especially useful for mapping energetic environments in space.
In images they collected from 2016 to 2018 and in 2012, the researchers found two plumes of X-rays — the galactic center chimneys — stretching in opposite directions from the central hub of the galaxy.
Each plume originates within about 160 light-years of the supermassive black hole and spans over 500 light-years.
Understanding how energy makes its way from a galaxy’s center to its outer limits could provide insights into why some galaxies are bursting with star formation whereas others are dormant.
Our galaxy isn’t quite that extreme other galaxies have fountains powered by central black holes weighing a thousand times more than ours but the Milky Way’s center provides an up-close look at what might be happening in galaxies that are more energetic.
Morris said the centers of the nearest galaxies are hundreds to thousands of times farther away than our own. “The amount of energy coming out of the center of our galaxy is limited, but it’s a really good example of a galactic center that we can observe and try to understand,” he said.
The research was funded by NASA, the French National Center for Space Studies, the French National Agency for Research, the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, the German Aerospace Center and the Max Planck Society.