Unsolved

Look: 1,000 mysterious filaments discovered at the center of the Milky Way

Nearly 1,000 were spotted streaking through space.

NRF/SARAO/MeerKAT

X-ray: NASA/CXC/UMass/Q.D. Wang; Radio: NRF/SARAO/MeerKAT

The center of the Milky Way is home to some of our galaxy’s most mysterious high-energy objects.

But it’s tough to document the galactic center in detail.

That’s because dark clouds of dust and gas obscure our view from Earth. Even with advanced X-ray and radio telescopes, we’re still uncovering new surprises in our cosmic backyard.

X-Ray:NASA/CXC/UMass/D. Wang et al.; Radio:NRF/SARAO/MeerKAT

Radio telescopes can capture especially ghostly views of the unexplored.

NRF/SARAO/MeerKAT

A new image captured by the MeerKAT radio telescope at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory brings to light mysterious filaments streaking across the Milky Way’s center.

The long slashes in this MeerKAT image are the filaments in question.

Northwestern University/SAORO/Oxford University

Even though researchers originally discovered these strange structures in the 1980s, they didn’t know just how many existed until now.

The new image reveals that there are over 1,000 filaments suspended in this part of the cosmos — 10 times more than previously discovered.

Northwestern University/SAORO/Oxford University

Here are a few of the ghostly structures up close:

The filaments are often found in clusters, like these two harp-shaped formations.

Northwestern University/SAORO/Oxford University

They can span up to 150 light years.

Northwestern University/SAORO/Oxford University

Though they have strong magnetic fields, researchers don’t think the filaments are related to supernovae remnants nearby.

Northwestern University/SAORO/Oxford University

So, what are they?

Researchers know that they’re magnetic. The filaments likely have something to do with past activity from Sagittarius A, our galaxy’s supermassive black hole.

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But the filaments’ origin, movements, and makeup remain shrouded in mystery.

They could also possibly be linked to radio-emitting bubbles that sit at the Milky Way’s center.

Northwestern University/SAORO/Oxford University

The next step is to catalog each one, which Northwestern University researcher Farhad Yusef-Zadeh is working on.

He helped discover the filaments in the 1980s, and co-authored a new report about the structures that will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“We still don’t know why they come in clusters or understand how they separate, and we don’t know how these regular spacings happen. Every time we answer one question, multiple other questions arise.”

Farhad Yusef-Zadeh said in a statement.

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