NASA's Chandra notices venting galactic center

Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have discovered an exhaust vent connected to a “chimney” of hot gas rising from the center of the galaxy.

According to scientists, this chimney and exhaust vent may have been formed by the explosion of the supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A* (abbreviated Sgr A*) at the center of the galaxy.

There are approximately 26,000 light years between Earth and the chimneys and vents. Starting from the center of the galaxy, the chimney is oriented perpendicular to the galaxy's spiral disk. Astronomers have previously detected the chimney using X-ray data from the ESA (European Space Agency) missions, Chandra and XMM-Newton, with support from NASA. The magnetic fields that surround the chimney gas are evident in the radio emissions picked up by the MeerKAT radio telescope.

The most recent Chandra data show numerous X-ray ridges almost perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy. Scientists believe these are the walls of a cylinder-like tunnel that help direct hot gas away from the galactic center and upward along the chimney. The newly discovered vent is near the top of the chimney, about 700 light-years away from the galaxy's center.

Scott Mackey of the University of Chicago, who led the study, said, “We suspected that the magnetic fields were acting as chimney walls and hot gas was rising through them like smoke. We have now discovered an exhaust vent near the top of the chimney.”

It is believed that this exhaust vent is formed after the hot gas rising from the chimney collides with the more noble gas lying in its path. The shock waves from this impact, which are similar to the sonic booms from supersonic flights, cause the exhaust vent walls to glow in X-rays. Because the upward-moving gas is hitting the tunnel wall at a more direct angle and with greater force than other locations, the left side of the exhaust vent is probably exceptionally bright.

According to the study authors, the hot gas is likely the result of material falling into SGR A*, followed by an explosion from the black hole that pushes gas up along the chimney and out the exhaust vent. However, they are unsure about the exact frequency of feeding the black hole.

Co-author Mark Morris of the University of California, Los Angeles said, “We are not sure that this energy and heat would be generated by throwing large amounts of material at SGR A* at once, like logs being thrown on a fire. Or it could come from many small masses, such as burning objects regularly thrown into the black hole.

The particles and energy in the vent hint at the origin of two mysterious and fairly large structures around the galaxy's core: the Erosity bubble, found by ESA's latest X-ray telescope, and the Fermi bubble, seen in gamma-rays. went. By NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. These two sets of structures are thousands of light years away from the galaxy center. They provide valuable insights into past explosive events near the center of the galaxy.

The direction of the chimney and another X-ray chimney that starts from the center of the galaxy and points in the opposite direction align with the Fermi and Erosity bubbles. The hot gas moving upward can be concentrated by the exhaust outlet near the top of the chimney, creating a funnel effect, which can help the bubbles form a coherent structure.

Co-author Gabriele Ponti of the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics in Merete said, “The origin of the Fermi Bubbles and Erosity Bubbles is one of the biggest mysteries revealed in the study of high energy radiation from our galaxy. “We have discovered a tiny structure that may play a big role in the formation of these giant bubbles.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Scott C. Mackey et al., X-rays from the central “exhaust vent” of the Galactic Center Chimney, The Astrophysical Journal Letters (2024). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ad3248

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