The Milky Way has some nerve (or after you see the picture you may think, excuse my language, big cojones) for hiding a massive structure that about equals the size of the visible Milky Way. The Fermi gamma ray satellite observed the structure mired in a fog of gamma rays which are pervasive through our sky. Fermi has been making a survey of the complete sky for some time, but only through careful data analysis and removal of diffuse sources were the lobes readily apparent.
Spotting the lobes inside the Milky Way was difficult because from our view within we can't see the forest for the trees, but astrophysics expect that some galaxies have gamma ray lobes and Fermi has spotted such lobe structures like this in other galaxies such as Centarus A. So this result isn't that unexpected, except that it is. These gamma ray lobes are comparable to the entire size of our galaxy and they are just now being seen for the first time.
The structures are orthogonal to the plane of the Milky Way and have distinct edges; they are surprisingly geometrically perfect. They span about 7.5 kiloparsecs (or 25,000 light years). The lobes are composed of gamma rays which are super high energy photons; the photons obtain such high energies by interacting with particles, like free electrons, which are themselves moving close to the speed of light which then interact with the lower energy photons in their vicinity to boost the photons up to gamma ray energies.
The distinct edges of the lobes are indicative of a large and rapid formation event. The structures may have been formed by a massive burst of star formation followed by stellar explosions which seeded the lobes with gas, dust, and hot electrons over millions of years. There is a supper massive black hole at the center of many galaxies, including the Milky Way, which may create high energy lobes, but those lobes would only form when the black hole is actively undergoing accretion of matter. So this may be evidence that the 4 million solar mass black hole at the center of our galaxy underwent an active period where it accreted a large amount of matter and simultaneously released massive jets of energetic particles just a few million years ago.
It is an exciting discovery, but I don't have anything other than a press release to go on as of yet though a paper is accepted for publication in ApJ so more to come.
Why I'm Marching for Science
1 day ago in Angry by Choice