Towering, balloon-like features found near Milky Way galaxy’s center

The hourglass-shaped feature is likely the result of an energetic burst near the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole a few million years ago, according to scientists.

“The center of our galaxy is relatively calm when compared to other galaxies with very active central black holes,” said Ian Heywood of the University of Oxford and lead author of an article appearing in the journal Nature.

“Even so, the Milky Way’s central black hole can, from time to time, become uncharacteristically active, flaring up as it periodically devours massive clumps of dust and gas,” he explained in a statement. “It’s possible that one such feeding frenzy triggered powerful outbursts that inflated this previously unseen feature.”

Heywood and his colleagues used the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) MeerKAT telescope to map out broad regions in the center of the galaxy — even conducting observations at wavelengths near 23 centimeters. Upon examining the very similar features of the twin bubbles, researchers believe they’ve found evidence that they were formed from a violent eruption that quickly punched through the interstellar medium in opposite directions.

“The shape and symmetry of what we have observed strongly suggests that a staggeringly powerful event happened a few million years ago very near our galaxy’s central black hole,” William Cotton, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, and co-author on the paper, said in a press statement.

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