Giant X-ray 'chimneys' are exhaust vents for vast energies produced at Milky Way's center
TEach plume originates within about 160 lightyears of the supermassive black hole and spans over 500 light-years.
The chimneys hook up to two gargantuan structures known as the Fermi bubbles, cavities carved out of the gas that envelops the galaxy. The bubbles, which are filled with high-speed particles, straddle the center of the galaxy and stretch for 25,000 lightyears in either direction. Some astronomers suspect that the Fermi bubbles are relics of massive eruptions from the supermassive black hole, while others think the bubbles are blown out by hordes of newly born stars. Either way, the chimneys could be the conduits through which high-speed particles get there. Understanding how energy makes its way from a galaxy's center to its outer limits could provide insights into why some galaxies are bursting with star formation whereas others are dormant.
"In extreme cases, that fountain of energy can either trigger or shut off star formation in the galaxy," Morris said.
Our galaxy isn't quite that extreme -- other galaxies have fountains powered by central black holes weighing a thousand times more than ours -- but the Milky Way's center provides
an up-close look at what might be happening in galaxies that are more energetic.
"We know that outflows and winds of material and energy emanating from a galaxy are crucial in sculpting and altering that galaxy's shape over time - they're key players in how galaxies, and other structures, form and evolve throughout the cosmos," said lead author Gabriele Ponti of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany. "Luckily, our galaxy gives us a nearby laboratory to explore this in detail, and probe how material flows out into the space around us."
Morris said the centers of the nearest galaxies are hundreds to thousands of times farther away than our own. "The amount of energy coming out of the center of our galaxy is limited, but it's a really good example of a galactic center that we can observe and try to understand," he said.
Nine authors from five countries contributed to the study. The research was funded by NASA, the French National Center for Space Studies, the French National Agency for Research, the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, the German Aerospace Center and the Max Planck Society.
he center of our galaxy is a frenzy of activ ity. A behemoth black hole -- 4 million times as massive as the sun -- blasts out energy as it chows down on interstellar detritus while neighboring stars burst to life and subsequently explode.