Found: Giant Gamma Ray Bubbles at the Heart of the Galaxy

By Andrew Moseman | November 10, 2010 5:40 pm

GammaraybubbleThose two purple lobes in the figure-eight shape are balloons of gamma ray energy that reach out 25,000 light years above and below the plane of the galaxy. Yet these huge structures have remained hidden from astronomers, until now.

Using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope, Doug Finkbeiner and colleagues detected the bubbles after they managed to remove from their images an obstructing “fog” of gamma rays between here and there.

Researchers do not yet know what produced the bubbles, but the fact that they appear to have relatively sharp edges suggests that they were produced in a single event. Finkbeiner said that would have required the rapid release of energy equivalent to about 100,000 supernovae, or exploding stars. One possibility is that there was a burst of star formation in the center of the galaxy producing massive, short-lived stars that exploded and ejected a great deal of gas and dust over a few million years. [Los Angeles Times]

There is another possibility: The supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. While relatively quiet now, a furious period of gobbling up matter and blasting out jets of material in the past could have inflated Finkbeiner’s bubble.

It’s also possible, he said, that the best explanation could turn out to be a combination of both sources. Supernova explosions from a population of massive stars might have inflated the bubbles, while subsequent jet activity from the black hole might have set the bubbles aglow in gamma rays. [Science News]

The astronomers had hints that there might be something weird going on in the center of the galaxy when they began looking there with Fermi:

The scientists weren’t flying blind; previous studies by other astronomers using other instruments had found intriguing clues that a huge, previously unknown structure might be lurking near the Milky Way’s heart. “We were definitely looking for something,” Finkbeiner told reporters… “Some hints of this signal had been seen before, but not convincingly.” [MSNBC]

Now their task is to sort out the nature of this colossal find. The the black hole is the culprit, he says, this could be the first evidence ever seen of a supermassive black hole’s eruption.

Their study will soon be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: A Black Hole Feasts at the Milky Way’s Center
DISCOVER: Amazing Images of the Heart of the Milky Way
80beats: Behemoth Black Holes Were Born in Violent Galactic Collisions
80beats: The Runaway Star That’s Racing Full-Throttle Out of Our Galaxy
80beats: Breaking News on Black Holes: They “Waltz” in Pairs, Rip Stars Apart

Image: NASA

  • ChH

    How did they get that picture of the milky way? 😉

  • Brian Too

    Hmph! Clearly this is a body of Zetarians looking for hosts.

  • d m smirl

    This is it! This is the picture of our Galaxy that we have been missing. We are not living on spiral plane but a four dimensional Uborous that emanates a massive energy “bubble” as It creates and absorbs energy from the Universe on an unimaginable scale!

  • Messier Tidy Upper

    Looks like a reflection with the Milky Way as the horizon and a strange purple Sun or Moon rising over a mirror sheen surface with the sky echoed on the land!

    Poetic impression and totally an illusion rather than reality natch. 😉

    Fantastic work by the folks of Fermi – fanks! 😉

  • Roeh Billy

    Matzel tov to the folks at Fermi. There will never be an end to the discoveries of the Universe Elohim created. As long as the candle keep burning, as long as we keep learning, as long as we keep returning.

  • Jake Cooper

    Very very cool. Amazing how we keep finding out more and more and more.

  • Matt B.

    “two purple lobes in the figure-eight shape are balloons of gamma ray energy that reach out 25,000 light years above and below the plane of the galaxy.”

    That’s confusing. Is it rather two purple lobes of *material emitting* gamma rays?

    But my big question is what makes the material expand with a velocity proportional to the cosine (or some similar function) of its angle with the galactic axis.

  • Andrew Moseman

    @Matt B.
    Good point re: material.

    I haven’t read enough of it yet to answer your cosine question, but the paper by Finkbeiner et. al. is available for free download right now— They also say a bit about the density of cosmic rays and gas needed to make this happen.

  • Matt B.

    Oh, the cosine question was pretty much rhetorical. I wouldn’t expect an answer when these bubbles have just been discovered.

  • Rich Blair

    It’s not an original idea with me – I credit Stanley Schmidt for my first exposure – in enigmatic ultrahigh energy events like this I always wonder about industrial activity. Due to the scale of it, this could be our first glimpse of a type III civilization, if indeed such a thing will ever exist.

  • Midoryu

    It’s funny…It kinda looks like a d orbital
    So if we like, get two galaxies together we’ll have like, what, an sd galaxy?
    Just junkfood for thought.

  • Lily S

    Awesome. I wonder what they will discover next.

  • Lila

    The more we learn and discover, the less I feel as though we ever knew to begin with! What a massive find, just more to consider as we try to tie together the threads of this mysterious place and state of being we are born into. Cheers to the scientists and all involved who dedicate their time, energy, and lives to the larger (largest?) quest!

  • jim henson

    We have an explanation of the Milky Way’s Huge x-ray & gamma ray Galaxy Bubbles, along with supporting photos of self-similar carbon atoms. Robert Oldershaw identifies some self-similar patterns with the atomic scale and the galaxy bubble lobes.

  • John


    Now finally, the evidence! Galaxy structure is determined by ‘Gravity’. Gravity produces the clumping of matter into planets, stars and galaxies.

    These bubbles are a positive sign that the universe (including our galaxy) is collapsing! The huge amounts of gamma and x rays emitted at the centre is a clear sign that the universe of which our galaxy is only a tiny part is contracting. Gamma rays of this order can only be produced when matter fuses in such a collapse.

    No other conclusion can be drawn from this critical evidence surely?


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