Hugely Energetic "Geysers" Half the Size of Our Galaxy Seen for the First Time

Our galaxy is spewing outwards massive amounts of charged particles

By Lucian Parfeni on January 3rd, 2013 15:04 GMT

Huge jets of particles originating near the Milky Way's center have been seen in greater detail than ever with the Parkes radio telescope. The formations were first discovered in 2010, but initial observations lacked details.

These new observations have provided a lot more data and an explanation of their origin.

The formations are immense though invisible to the naked eye, they cover roughly two thirds of the sky from horizon to horizon. If we were able to see them, we'd have to turn around to get a full look.

You'd think that something this big would be easy to spot, but it's precisely the size of the jets that made them hard to detect.

The jets of charged particles originate near the center of our galaxy and spread out 50,000 light years across. For comparison, the Milky Way is only about 100,000 light years across and we're situated some 26,000 light years away from the jets.

They shoot out perpendicularly to the galactic plane so they pose no threat to Earth. However, the jets are hugely energetic, they contain the energy of some one million exploding stars, i.e. supernovas.

Until now, there were two main theories for explaining how these jets formed and how they accumulated so much energy. The first was that the jets were formed by the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy, spewing off energized matter as it feasted.

The other theory was that the jets were the result of sustained star formation around the center of our galaxy. The latest observations found that the latter is true.

Observations of the magnetic field around the jets indicated that star formation created them. In fact, they were created by several bursts of star formation, not just one. The results of the study were published in the journal Nature.
An optical image of the sky with the Milky Way in the center and radio image of the jets in light blue
   An optical image of the sky with the Milky Way in the center and radio image of the jets in light blue