Huge cosmic 'superbubbles' that are churning up space spotted in a distant galaxy

The regions stretch thousands of light years across and are thought to be spewing out shock waves

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 07 March 2019 17:47
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Nasa explains cosmic 'superbubbles' that are churning up the universe

Huge "superbubbles" stretching thousands of miles across have been spotted in a distant galaxy.

A galaxy known as NGC 3079, located about 67 million light years from Earth, has two "superbubbles" inside of it, Nasa has seen. Theystretch out from different sides of the middle of the galaxy – reaching 4,900 light years and 3,600 light years across.

The bubbles are throwing out light in the form of X-ray, optical and radio emission, which allows Nasa to see them from Earth. The new images show that data as it was spotted by those Nasa researchers: the Chandra X-ray Observatory are shown in purple and optical data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope are shown in orange and blue.

The same data also shows that inside of the galaxy there is something like a huge version of the particle accelerator in the Large Hadron Collider. But the particles being produced are far more energetic than those created on Earth.

The superbubbles might be the kind of thing that is throwing out the high-energy particles known as "cosmic rays" that are regularly bombarding the Earth. Shock waves that happen out there can speed up particles so they have around 100 times as much energy as those in the LHC, but there are even more energetic cosmic rays that have been found and still remain mysterious – which may be getting thrown out of such superbubbles.

Scientists think charges particles are being thown around inside of the shock waves, in a process likened to balls bouncing off bumpers in a pinball machine. Then they cross the shock front and are sped up, light they have been hit by a flipper on their way down – sometimes throwing them out across the universe so that they hit Earth.

The discovery of the bubbles is described in a new paper that was led by Jiangtao Li of the University of Michigan and appears in The Astrophysical Journal.

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