Magnetic highways are contributing to gas and dust ejection in Messier 82

Shane McGlaun - Jan 19, 2021, 7:46am CST
Magnetic highways are contributing to gas and dust ejection in Messier 82

Scientists have been searching for what’s fueling the ejection of gas and dust out of Messier 82, known as the Cigar galaxy. Astronomers know the galaxy has thousands of stars coming into existence that drive a powerful super wind that blows matter into intergalactic space. The new research shows that magnetic fields are also contributing to the material being expelled from the galaxy.

Messier 82 is a starburst galaxy with a distinctive elongated shape, which gained it the “Cigar galaxy” moniker. NASA scientists on the project use data gathered from the SOFIA platform to explain how dust and gas move from inside galaxies into intergalactic space. SOFIA is a joint project with NASA and the German Aerospace Center known as DLR.

Teams previously studied the direction of magnetic fields close to the core of Messier 82. In the new study, the team used tools previously used extensively for studying physics around the sun to understand the strength of the magnetic field surrounding the galaxy. The tools help scientists understand how the space between stars and galaxies became so rich with matter for creating future stars and galaxies.

The Cigar galaxy is 12 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Ursa Major. The galaxy is currently experiencing an exceptionally high rate of star formation known as starburst. Star formation is happening at such a high rate that it creates a “super wind” blowing material out of the galaxy. That wind drags the magnetic field near the galactic core, making it perpendicular to the galaxy’s plane across 2000 light-years.

The extended magnetic fields could explain how gas and dust observed by space telescopes have traveled so far away from the galaxy. The Spitzer Space Telescope has detected dusty material 20,000 light-years beyond the galaxy. Still, scientists were unsure how it had spread so far away from the stars in the galaxy in both directions rather than in a cone-shaped jet. The new theory is the magnetic fields act like a highway creating lanes for galactic materials to spread far away into intergalactic space.

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