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article imageOp-Ed: Rewriting the Milky Way with giant ‘chimneys’ at the core

By Paul Wallis     Mar 21, 2019 in Science
Rome - This wasn’t in the script for previous astronomy – Two huge bubbles of radiation from the black hole at the middle of the galaxy, extending 50,000 light years above and below.
The Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) analysed data from the XMM-Newton and Chandra telescopes to map the two huge plumes. Their findings are truly spectacular. The big, symmetrical “bubbles” are based on superheated plasma, which is emitting X rays with gamma rays also forming major parts of the plumes.
The NASA image above is to scale, which shows the sheer size of the plumes relative to the galaxy. They’re called “Fermi bubbles”, and they move at 2 million mph. Until now, the exact composition of the bubbles wasn’t well understood. They were originally considered to be gaseous, but that turns out to be a much too simple definition. The power is in the X rays and gamma rays.
The theories are that:
• The black hole is generating the plumes above and below as ejecta while consuming matter.
• Supernovae, which are common in the centre of the galaxy, are generating the plumes.
Questions and not many answers
The big structures seem regular enough, and both are almost identical. That suggests an equally regular feed of energy in to both plumes.
Can supernovae deliver that sort of energy? In my opinion we can discount supernovae. These structures obviously require enormous amounts of energy, and their sheer size suggests that whatever produces them does so on an extremely consistent basis. Are there that many regularly occurring supernovae to generate that level of energy to the extent of creating 100,000 light years of very high energy symmetrical discharge above and below the galactic plane.?
Do other observable black holes have the same plumes, and how much matter is required to be ejected to achieve these big plumes? One of the current issues is observation of the black hole from our position in the galaxy. The exact process needs to be evaluated by what information is available, and in this case, accessible. Discharged matter also may not work as a solution.
What generates this vast volume of gamma rays? Gamma rays are super powerful. Super novae can do that, but we’re talking about a vast cloud of gamma rays here. You can’t have that sort of energy present without a super powerful source.
It may be that the black hole itself is generating them as a natural product, and the gamma rays are simply emitted because the process produces gamma rays. This is an unknown form of matter/energy conversion, if so. Again, checking other black holes would be advisable. Do they all do this?
Is the symmetry the key to understanding? In any energy field, some sort of organization is usually achieved by a balance. To use a really lousy analogy, a gravity or magnetic field does always have a sort of symmetry, with clearly defined borders and “poles”. The plumes are apparently almost exactly equivalent to each other, which would make sense in a stable field.
My guess would be that the plasma, being matter, is behaving as matter does, tied to the galaxy. It follows that the formation of the X rays is related to that. Whether or not the plasma is part of the generation of gamma rays, however, is a very different ball game, but the gamma rays are also in this same symmetrical form.
How do the plumes interact with the galaxy? That question is likely to generate almost as much heat as the plumes. If they’re made of ejected plasma and energy waves, they may not interact at all, or add something to the energy field created by the galaxy. Another property of stable fields is that they tend to self-stabilize, and they balance, using their own forces. That somewhat facile description is mitigated by the fact that if these things weren’t stable, they’re big enough to be perfectly capable of redefining energy flows through the entire galactic field structure. That could get messy, to say the least. There are many pictures of colliding galaxies getting literally tied in knots when they and their black holes intersect, for example.
Astronomy may have just got very lucky
This previously unknown phenomenon may well be the Rosetta Stone of black holes, for want of a more trite description. Black holes have become iconic as the big monsters of astronomy, but how they work and what they do has been pretty vague.
There are more theories about black holes than corn flakes in a box. They were originally big dumb vortices which sucked in surrounding matter. Then they became everything from sources of white holes where the matter came out somewhere else, to creators of proto-matter, etc.
Big black holes have been around since the earliest days of the universe. They come in all sizes. They don’t necessarily have to be in a galactic core. Vortex forces are common, too. Their vortex nature is also present in water, air, and other environments.
The big plumes obviously define the energy generation effects of the black holes. They can’t be bottomless, because they only have so much matter and energy to work with in any given scenario. They also now have two clearly defined, perfectly normal polar structure, too, another reassuring clue for those who like their cosmic physics to make more sense than usual.
Black holes are the only phenomena yet known which are capable of generating super masses. These gigantic masses travel with galaxies and alone at huge speeds. They must deliver enormous momentum to the expansion of the universe. The Great Wall supercluster, for example, contains billions of these super masses. Would that or would that not influence acceleration, etc.?
Looks to me like the big plumes over our galaxy are a sort of How To manual, although how to do exactly what is still pretty unclear. The next tier of clues is likely to be in analysing the energies which generate them. You could have a sort of scalable measure to assess the various effects of black holes, their size, and “weigh the universe”, maybe accurately, this time? Expect a lot more out of these very fundamental researches, and probably soon.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Italian National Institute for Astrophysics INAF, XMMNewton, Chandra telescope, Fermi bubbles, Milky Way black hole
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