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Marvel at massive Milky Way energy emissions

Researchers snap a stunning photo of massive amounts of charged particles bursting from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

A large chunk of the Milky Way galaxy. The pale blue markings are the energy-packed particle outflows emanating from the center of the galaxy. S-PASS survey team, Ettore Carretti, Axel Mellinger, Eli Bressert

At the center of our galaxy, chaos ensues: a supermassive black hole absorbs everything, young stars materialize, and elder stars explode. This violently beautiful cycle of activity creates galaxy-size bursts of charged particles that eject from the center of the Galactic Plane, and now you can see what those emissions look like.

Ettore Carretti, who works with Australian scientific research organization CSIRO, along with several other researchers around the world, describes the mega waves of energy in last week's issue of Nature. Team member Gianni Bernadi notes that the supersonic outflows -- which travel in excess of 621 miles per second -- originate from more than 100 million years of stars forming and exploding at the center of the Milky Way.

"These outflows contain an extraordinary amount of energy -- about a million times the energy of an exploding star," said Carretti, the research team's leader.

Unbelievably, the most astonishing thing about the particle bursts isn't their speed, but their size: each outflow of charged particles stretches out about 50,000 light years (293.9 quadrillion miles) -- roughly half the diameter of our galaxy. The research also gives the scientific community a better idea of how the galaxy's overall magnetic field originates.

"The outflow from the Galactic Centre is carrying off not just gas and high-energy electrons, but also strong magnetic fields," said team member Marijke Haverkorn of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

Thankfully, the high-speed particle bursts travel up and down from the Galactic Plane -- meaning they pose no threat to Earth, and merely serve as something mesmerizing to observe.