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Starts With A Bang

Starts With A Bang podcast #104 – The magnetized galactic center

The center of the galaxy doesn’t just host stars and a black hole, but an enormous set of rich gassy and dusty features. Find out more!
Annotated map of the milky way's center in multiple wavelengths with identified regions and sources.
This image shows the magnetized galactic center, with various features highlighted, as imaged by the SOFIA/HAWC+ FIREPLACE survey team. The giant bubble at the left of the image is some 30 light-years wide, several times larger than any other supernova-blown bubble ever discovered.
Credit: D. Paré et al., arXiv:2401.05317v2, 2024
Key Takeaways
  • The galactic center is home to a great collection of astronomical riches, from a supermassive black hole and enormous numbers of stars to gas, dust, and intricate magnetic fields.
  • These features all interact, leading to a wealth of emissions across the electromagnetic spectrum, but which can be uniquely observed with long-wavelength radiation, from the far-infrared to the radio.
  • With our best terrestrial far-IR observatory, SOFIA, having been canceled just a few months ago, the FIREPLACE survey marks one of the last great projects it undertook. Here’s the inside scoop from one of its leaders.

Have you ever wondered what the full story with the galactic center is? Sure, we have stars, gas, and an all-important supermassive black hole, but for hundreds of light-years around the center, there’s a remarkable story going on that’s traced out in a variety of elements at a whole slew of different temperatures. Imprinted in that material is a remarkable set of features that reveals the magnetic fields generated in our galaxy’s core, with some of them spanning much greater distances than have ever been seen elsewhere.

It’s a testament to the power of multiwavelength astronomy, and in particular to the long wavelengths like the far-infrared, the microwave, and the radio portions of the spectrum that shows us these features of the Universe that simply can’t be revealed in any other way. To help bring this story to all of you, I’m so pleased to welcome Dr. Natalie Butterfield, a scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), to join us on this episode of the Starts With A Bang podcast.

Natalie is the discoverer of a giant magnetized ring some 30 light-years in diameter located in the galactic center, and is one of the leaders of the FIREPLACE survey: the Far-Infrared Polarimetric Large-Area CMZ Exploration survey that used the (sadly, now-defunct) SOFIA telescope to image the galactic center as never before. Strap in and have a listen, because you just might never think about the core of the Milky Way in the same way again!


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