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Earth and the entire Solar System are ‘trapped’ inside a giant magnetic tunnel – scientists

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It is a massive structure 1,000 light-years long that astronomers have never seen before.

Our planet, along with the rest of the Solar System and a few surrounding stars, appears to be “trapped” inside a huge “magnetic tunnel.” And scientists have no idea why.

A 1,000 light-year-long tube of massive magnetised tendrils, unseen to the human eye, may encircle the solar system, according to astronomers in recent research. Jennifer West, an astronomer at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, made the proposal after an investigation into the North Polar Spur and the Fan Region — two of the brightest radio-emitting gas structures in our galaxy — revealed that the two structures may be linked despite being on opposite sides of the sky.

West with colleagues, in effect, believe that the two structures could be part of a larger whole, even though they are located in different places in space. 

“If we were to look up in the sky,” West explains, “we would see this tunnel-like structure in just about every direction we looked — that is, if we had eyes that could see radio light.”

The North Polar Spur and the Fan Region have been known to astronomers for decades, but most investigations on them have focused on them separately. West and colleagues believe they are part of a much larger entity composed of charged particles and a magnetic field; both objects are in the shape of elongated strings, are around 350 light-years away from us, and are approximately 1,000 light-years long.

West first noticed these two long magnetic filaments 15 years ago, and she recently created a computer model to simulate how they would seem from Earth. Then they changed the shape and placement of the two known components until they matched what the telescopes saw. They were finally able to recreate the entire structure and demonstrate how it would appear from our planet as a result of this.

“A few years ago,” West recalls, “one of our co-authors, Tom Landecker, told me about a paper from 1965, from the early days of radio astronomy,” West says. “Based on the crude data available at this time, the authors (Mathewson & Milne), speculated that these polarized radio signals could arise from our view of the Local Arm of the Galaxy, from inside it.”

“That paper inspired me to develop this idea and tie my model to the vastly better data that our telescopes give us today.”

Are we inside the tunnel?

The discovery would position our Solar System, as well as a small portion of the galaxy, inside this massive magnetic tunnel. This type of filament, however, is not unique to our region of space and has been discovered in several other parts of the galaxy.

It has also been demonstrated that they can emit not just radio waves but also various sorts of light.

Filamentary structures that emit optical light, for example, have already been discovered near the remains of massive stellar explosions, in molecular clouds, and in the walls of so-called ‘galactic chimneys,’ massive cavities created by successive supernova explosions and through which hot gas flows from the disc to the galactic halo.

In fact, some scientists have proposed that spiralling filaments of molecular gas could be the ‘bones’ that make up the Milky Way’s ‘skeleton.’

The findings will now be confirmed with further precise studies of the simulated regions, which will be used to refine the model. West expects that this will help scientists better comprehend other magnetic filaments discovered around our galaxy. Another intriguing hypothesis is that all of those invisible magnetic filaments are but a small component of a much greater galactic structure.

“Magnetic fields don’t exist in isolation. They all must connect to each other,” said the expert.

“So a next step is to better understand how this local magnetic field connects both to the larger-scale galactic magnetic field and also to the smaller-scale magnetic fields of our sun and Earth.

“I think it’s just awesome to imagine that these structures are everywhere, whenever we look up into the night sky,” West further adds.

Image Credit: Pixabay and Getty

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