An unprecedented observation has been made by physicists who have managed to see—for the first time ever—a supermassive magnetic “Bridge” between distant galaxies.
This is one of those “WHOA” moments in astronomy.
As experts were observing the universe, they’ve come across evidence of a magnetic field that associated with a vast intergalactic bridge that seems to LINK two of our nearest cosmic neighbors.
This massive magnetic link is referred to by experts as the Magellanic Bridge, and it’s basically a massive stream of neutral gas that covers an area of around 75,000 light years, occupying the space between two of our nearest neighboring galaxies—the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC).
Visible in the southern night sky, the Great and Small Magellanic Clouds are dwarf galaxies that orbit our Milky Way galaxy and are located at a distance of 160,000 and 200,000 light-years from Earth, respectively.
In the past experts theorized that such a magnetic bridge could exist, but this is the first time physicists were actually able to observe it, and this mind-bending moment in astronomy could help experts understand how these vast cosmic bridges came into existence.
Lead researcher, Jane Kaczmarek from the University of Sydney said: “There were hints that this magnetic field might exist, but no one had observed it until now.”
The new research has allowed scientists that the newly detected magnetic field is approximately one millionth the strength of our planet’s own magnetic shield. These details could help expert’s understand how it formed.
There are two leading theories among experts at the moment.
One is that the magnetic field was generated within the bridge after the galactic structure formed, or it may have been literally ‘ripped’ off of the galaxies believed to have merged and formed the bridge in the first place.
“Not only are entire galaxies magnetic, but the faint delicate threads joining galaxies are magnetic, too,” said one of the researchers, Bryan Gaensler from the University of Toronto.
“Everywhere we look in the sky, we find magnetism.”
Physicists struggled in the past to study these galactic structures because these types of magnetic fields can only be seen indirectly through the effect they exert on other structures in the universe.
Now, experts used radio signals from hundreds of different distant galaxies in the universe to spot the magnetic field from the Magellanic Bridge.
Professor Kaczmarek explains: “The radio emission from the distant galaxies served as background ‘flashlights’ that shine through the Bridge.”
“Its magnetic field then changes the polarization of the radio signal. How the polarized light is changed tells us about the intervening magnetic field.”
Now that astronomers have been able to detect the magnetic field, they now have the chance to understand not only how it formed, but the impact it’s had—or still is having—on the LMC and SMC.
“In general, we don’t know how such vast magnetic fields are generated, nor how these large-scale magnetic fields affect galaxy formation and evolution,” said Kaczmarek.