You are looking at a map of the magnetic field of the Milky Way

Using telescopes that study the sky in the microwave part of the electromagnetic spectrum, astronomers have succeeded in mapping the structure of the Milky Way’s magnetic field. While magnetic fields in space are difficult to measure, an international team of astronomers used the Teide Observatory in Tenerife in the Canary Islands to conduct 10 years of observations.

Ted Observatory. Credit: Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias.

The team’s collaboration, called QUIJOTE (QUI JOint Tenerife), used two 2.5-meter telescopes to observe the sky in the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Learning more about our galaxy’s magnetic field can provide information about star formation, cosmic rays, and many other astrophysical processes.

The team said their work complements data collected by previous space missions devoted to studying cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), the fossil radiation left over from the Big Bang, which has given detailed insight into the early history of the universe.

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“These new maps provide detailed description in a new frequency range, from 10 to 40 GHz, complementing those from space missions such as Planck and WMAP,” said José Alberto Rubino, chief scientist at the QUIJOTE Collaboration, in a press release. We have characterized the synchrotron emission from our galaxy with unprecedented precision. This radiation is caused by the emission of charged particles moving at speeds close to the speed of light within the galaxy’s magnetic field. These maps, resulting from nearly 9,000 hours of observation, are a unique tool for studying magnetism in the universe.”

The magnetic field of the Milky Way as seen by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite. Credit: ESA and Planck Collaboration.

Work on this mapping project began in 2012, and the team has now published a series of 6 science papers providing the most accurate description yet of the Milky Way’s emission polarization at microwave wavelengths. The team explained that polarization is “a property of transverse waves such as light waves that determines the direction of wave oscillations and is indicative of the presence of a magnetic field.”

With the new maps, not only do astronomers have more detailed information about the structure of the Milky Way’s magnetic field, but their findings also help understand the energetic processes that occurred near the birth of the universe.

Polarized microwave emission was measured by QUIJOTE. The overlapping line pattern shows the direction of the magnetic field lines. Credit: Quijote Collaboration.

“Scientific evidence indicates that the universe went through a phase of rapid expansion, called inflation, which is a fraction of a second after the Big Bang,” Rubino said. “If this is true, we would expect to find some observable results when we study the polarization of the cosmic microwave background. These expected features are difficult to measure, because they are small in breadth, but also because they are much less bright than the polarized emission from our galaxy. However, if we By finally measuring it, we will gain indirect information about the physical conditions in the very early stages of our universe, when energy scales were much higher than those we can access or study from Earth. This has enormous implications for our understanding of fundamental physics.”

The new maps from QUIJOTE also provided new data for studying the recently detected increase in microwave emissions from the center of our galaxy. The origin of this emission is currently unknown, but it could be related to the decay processes of dark matter particles.

In addition, data from the QUIJOTE collaboration allow scientists to study more than 700 sources of radio and microwave emissions, both of galactic and extragalactic origin, meaning that the data helps scientists decipher signals coming from outside our galaxy, including the cosmic microwave background. radiation.

“One of the most interesting findings we have found is that the polarized synchrotron emission from our galaxy is much more variable than previously thought,” said Elena de la Hoz, a researcher at the Instituto Fesica de Cantabria (IFCA). “Our results are a reference to help future experiments make reliable detections of CMB signaling.

Here are links to the six research papers published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society:

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