Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Astronomers Report Unprecedented Double Helix Nebula Near Center Of The Milky Way

Date:
March 15, 2006
Source:
University of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
Astronomers report an unprecedented elongated double helix nebula near the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

The double helix nebula. (The image uses false colors because the eye is not sensitive to infrared light.) The spots are infrared-luminous stars, mostly red giants and red supergiants. Many other stars are present in this region, but are too dim to appear even in this sensitive infrared image.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Astronomers report an unprecedented elongated double helix nebula near the center of our Milky Way galaxy, using observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The part of the nebula the astronomers observed stretches 80 light years in length.

"We see two intertwining strands wrapped around each other as in a DNA molecule," said Mark Morris, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, and lead author. "Nobody has ever seen anything like that before in the cosmic realm. Most nebulae are either spiral galaxies full of stars or formless amorphous conglomerations of dust and gas -- space weather. What we see indicates a high degree of order."

The double helix nebula is approximately 300 light years from the enormous black hole at the center of the Milky Way. (The Earth is more than 25,000 light years from the black hole at the galactic center.)

The Spitzer Space Telescope, an infrared telescope, is imaging the sky at unprecedented sensitivity and resolution; Spitzer's sensitivity and spatial resolution were required to see the double helix nebula clearly.

"We know the galactic center has a strong magnetic field that is highly ordered and that the magnetic field lines are oriented perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy," Morris said. "If you take these magnetic field lines and twist them at their base, that sends what is called a torsional wave up the magnetic field lines.

"You can regard these magnetic field lines as akin to a taut rubber band," Morris added. "If you twist one end, the twist will travel up the rubber band."

Offering another analogy, he said the wave is like what you see if you take a long loose rope attached at its far end, throw a loop, and watch the loop travel down the rope.

"That's what is being sent down the magnetic field lines of our galaxy," Morris said. "We see this twisting torsional wave propagating out. We don't see it move because it takes 100,000 years to move from where we think it was launched to where we now see it, but it's moving fast -- about 1,000 kilometers per second -- because the magnetic field is so strong at the galactic center -- about 1,000 times stronger than where we are in the galaxy's suburbs."

A strong, large-scale magnetic field can affect the galactic orbits of molecular clouds by exerting a drag on them. It can inhibit star formation, and can guide a wind of cosmic rays away from the central region; understanding this strong magnetic field is important for understanding quasars and violent phenomena in a galactic nucleus. Morris will continue to probe the magnetic field at the galactic center in future research.

This magnetic field is strong enough to cause activity that does not occur elsewhere in the galaxy; the magnetic energy near the galactic center is capable of altering the activity of our galactic nucleus and by analogy the nuclei of many galaxies, including quasars, which are among the most luminous objects in the universe. All galaxies that have a well-concentrated galactic center may also have a strong magnetic field at their center, Morris said, but so far, ours is the only galaxy where the view is good enough to study it.

Morris has argued for many years that the magnetic field at the galactic center is extremely strong; the research published in Nature strongly supports that view.

The magnetic field at the galactic center, though 1,000 times weaker than the magnetic field on the sun, occupies such a large volume that it has vastly more energy than the magnetic field on the sun. It has the energy equivalent of 1,000 supernovae.

What launches the wave, twisting the magnetic field lines near the center of the Milky Way? Morris thinks the answer is not the monstrous black hole at the galactic center, at least not directly.

Orbiting the black hole like the rings of Saturn, several light years away, is a massive disk of gas called the circumnuclear disk; Morris hypothesizes that the magnetic field lines are anchored in this disk. The disk orbits the black hole approximately once every 10,000 years.

"Once every 10,000 years is exactly what we need to explain the twisting of the magnetic field lines that we see in the double helix nebula," Morris said.

Co-authors on the Nature paper are Keven Uchida, a former UCLA graduate student and former member of Cornell University's Center for Radiophysics and Space Research; and Tuan Do, a UCLA astronomy graduate student. Morris and his UCLA colleagues study the galactic center at all wavelengths.

NASA funded the research.

The research is published March 16 in the journal Nature.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Los Angeles. "Astronomers Report Unprecedented Double Helix Nebula Near Center Of The Milky Way." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 March 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060315175226.htm>.
University of California - Los Angeles. (2006, March 15). Astronomers Report Unprecedented Double Helix Nebula Near Center Of The Milky Way. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060315175226.htm
University of California - Los Angeles. "Astronomers Report Unprecedented Double Helix Nebula Near Center Of The Milky Way." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060315175226.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

AP (July 30, 2014) Arianespace launched a rocket Tuesday from French Guiana carrying a robotic cargo ship to deliver provisions to the International Space Station. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA EDGE: OCO-2 Launch

NASA (July 25, 2014) NASA EDGE webcasts live from Vandenberg AFB for the launch of the Oribiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO) launch. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins