Giant magnetic tunnel made of rope-like objects that sits 350 light-years from the solar system might ‘cover’ Earth and everything else in the Milky Way, study suggests 

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  • An astronomer believes there is a magnetic tunnel around the solar system
  • Jennifer West with the University of Toronto is using two mysterious structures—the polar spur and the fan region—to explain the theory
  • The structures first observed in the 1960s were initially documented as separating
  • In a new analysis, West finds that the structures are linked to form a tunnel-like shape that sits 350 light-years away from the Solar System.

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A new model shows that the solar system is surrounded by a giant magnetic tunnel.

The proposal comes from University of Toronto astronomer Jennifer West, who is basing the hypothesis on two structures in the sky: the north polar spur and the fan region.

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After making computer models, West believes that the structures, made of rope-like filaments, sit 350 light-years away from Earth and are about 1,000 light-years long.

The structures first observed in the 1960s were initially documented as being separate, but West and his colleagues found the two to be a connection that ‘looks like a tunnel around our solar system’ ‘. Press release.

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West and his team provide a simple example to explain this idea: ‘A curved tunnel, in which the lines formed by tunnel lights and road lane markers, form a geometry similar to the proposed model of the North Polar Spur and Fan Region. ‘

“If we look up in the sky, we will see this tunnel-like structure in almost every direction – that is, if we had eyes to see the radio light,” West said in a statement.

The scientists provide a simple example to explain this idea: ‘A curved tunnel, with lines formed by tunnel lights and road lane markers, forms a geometry similar to the proposed model of the North Polar Spur and Fan Region’ (pictured)

The North Polar Spur is a large ridge of hot, X-ray- and radio-emitting gas that rises above the bottom of the Milky Way.

It appears as a giant yellow cloud that begins near Sagittarius and extends past Scorpius, Lupus, and past Centaurus.

a harvard paper Published in 1980 suggests that ionized gas within the mysterious cloud may be caused by hot stars or X-ray emissions.

To the west sits the Fan area which contains polarized radiation.

The proposal comes from Jennifer West, an astronomer at the University of Toronto, who is basing this hypothesis on two mysterious structures in the sky: the polar spur and the fan region.

The proposal comes from Jennifer West, an astronomer at the University of Toronto, who is basing this hypothesis on two mysterious structures in the sky: the polar spur and the fan region.

West and his team built a computer model that calculated what the radio sky would look like from Earth as it changed the shape and location of the long ropes.

The model allowed West to ‘build’ the structure around our planet, showing what the sky would look like through our telescopes and allowed him to match the model to the data.

“A few years ago, one of our co-authors, Tom Landeker, told me about a 1965 paper – from the very early days of radio astronomy,” West said.

‘Based on the raw data available at this time, the author’ [Mathewson and Milne], hypothesized that these polarized radio signals may originate from inside, in our view of the local branch of the Milky Way.

‘That paper inspired me to develop this idea and link my model to the better data that our telescopes give us today.’

The team plans to complete even more complex modeling in the future – with the hope of uncovering and understanding the role of magnetic tunneling in the Milky Way.

‘Magnetic fields do not exist in isolation,’ she said.

Illustrated map of the Milky Way galaxy shown with the position and size of the proposed filaments.  The inset shows a more detailed view of the local atmosphere and the position of the local bubble and various surrounding dust clouds

Illustrated map of the Milky Way galaxy shown with the position and size of the proposed filaments. The inset shows a more detailed view of the local atmosphere and the position of the local bubble and various surrounding dust clouds

‘All of these have to be linked to each other. So, the next step is to understand how this local magnetic field connects to both the large-scale galactic magnetic field and the smaller-scale magnetic fields of our Sun and Earth.’

Meanwhile, West agrees that the new ‘tunnel’ model not only brings new insights to the science community, but is also an important concept for the rest of the world.

‘I think it’s wonderful to imagine that whenever we look up at the night sky these structures are everywhere.’

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