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Astronomers discover giant balloon-like structures at center of Milky Way

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Christian Fernsby |
Milky Way
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An international team of astronomers has recently discovered a pair of enormous radio-emitting bubbles in the Milky Way, according to a study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

This hourglass-shaped structure stretches some 1,400 light-years, or about 5 percent of the distance between our sun and the galaxy's center, dwarfing all other structures ever observed in the central region of the galaxy.

The team believes it is the result of a phenomenally energetic burst that erupted near the Milky Way's supermassive black hole several million years ago.

"The center of our galaxy is relatively calm when compared to other galaxies with very active central black holes," said Ian Heywood from Oxford University, who is the first author of the paper.

"Even so, the Milky Way's central black hole can from time to time become uncharacteristically active, flaring up as it periodically devours massive clumps of dust and gas. It's possible that one such feeding frenzy triggered powerful outbursts that inflated this previously unseen feature," said Heywood.

The team represents 15 institutions, including Northwestern University, Oxford University, the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) in Cape Town and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia.

This discovery was spotted with the SARAO MeerKAT telescope, the largest science project in Africa. This is the first paper-detailing research completed with MeerKAT's full 64-dish array since its launch in July 2018.


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