Scientists present a map of magnetic fields and dust in the center of the Milky Way

by alex

The observation will help to better study the influence of dust and magnetism on the evolution of galaxies and the birth of stars

A team of scientists as part of a NASA-funded project has presented a new map of the central region of the Milky Way. This map took 4 years to create and reveals the connection between magnetic fields and cold dust structures in the heart of the galaxy. This dust is the building blocks for stars, planets and life as we know it. Understanding how stars and galaxies form and evolve is an important part of the story of the origin of life, but until now the interaction of dust and magnetic fields in this process has been overlooked.

The leader of the research team, a professor of physics at Villanova University, David Chasse notes that the center of the Milky Way and the space between the stars contain large amounts of dust, which plays an important role in the life cycle of the galaxy. At the heart of the Milky Way there is a region called the central molecular zone, which is filled with about 60 million solar masses of dust. The temperature in this region is about minus 258.2 degrees Celsius, which is just a few degrees above absolute zero (minus 460 degrees Fahrenheit), the temperature at which all atomic movement stops. In addition, at the center of the Milky Way there is a hot, «ionized» gas in a state devoid of electrons.

The goal of the study was to find out how cold dust combines with magnetic fields at the center of the Milky Way and how they are oriented. This orientation, called polarization, was obtained using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) telescope, which was placed aboard a Boeing 747 aircraft and orbited the globe at an altitude of 13,716 meters.

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Project FIREPLACE, which created an infrared map of the center of the Milky Way, spans about 500 light years and was completed over nine flights. Using measurements of the polarization of radiation, the team of scientists revealed the complex structure of magnetic fields in the central region of the galaxy. This structure was then overlaid on a map showing warm pink dust and cool clouds of blue dust. The image also shows the «threads» emitting radio waves, which are highlighted in yellow.

It turned out that the directions of magnetic fields differ in the center of the Milky Way. This study was the first step in understanding the relationship of the radio wave field in large structures of the galaxy. David Chasse says this pattern of magnetic fields was predicted and previously observed in the center of the Milky Way, but the new map allows it to be seen on a larger scale, revealing previously unseen regions and features.

This discovery sets a new benchmark in the study of the origin of life and the development of galaxies. Scientists now have a more complete picture of how stars and galaxies form, as well as the influence of magnetic fields and dust on these processes. This information opens up new ways to understand the origin of life in the Universe and may lead to new discoveries in the future.

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