Magnetic Tunnel Surrounds Our Solar System: Galactic Bodies

Radio astronomy is very fascinating since it shows the “other side” of reality which we do not witness in our everyday life. Of course, due to our own limitations.

Dr. Jennifer West, an astrophysicist at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics suggests that a gigantic magnetic tunnel surrounds our solar system. This magnetic flux can be observed in radio waves.

Dr. West pointed out that two bright features seen on opposite sides – “the North Polar Spur” and “the Fan Region” – of the sky are essentially connected. Earlier, the two structures were thought to be distinct entities. The two points are in fact connected to each other with a rope-like filament.

In her words, the cable like structure is present in every direction in the sky that we see in radio light.

The North Polar Spur and the Fan Region are connected

The North Polar Spur and the Fan Region, the two of the brightest, large-scale, diffuse, polarized radio features in the sky, were known to astronomers for decades. Till now, both the points were considered an independent entity residing in space. But for the first time, scientific explanations have proved them otherwise.

According to West and her colleagues, the tunnel shaped structures are made up of charged particles and a magnetic field. They are about 1000 light years long. And nearly, 350 light years away from us.

Simulation of polarized radio structures

Dr. West has been studying these polarized radio features in the sky for 15 years. Lately, she built a model based on computer simulation to see how the night sky would look like through radio waves. She tweaked the two parameters – shape and location of the long ropes. The model also allowed West to create new similar structures.

This however, is not the first-time astronomers have played around with polarized radio signals. In 1965, during the early days of astronomy, two astronomers [Mathewson and Milne], postulated that the Local Arm of the galaxy is the origin of polarized radio signals. Orientation of the radio waves is due to the trajectory of the local arm of the galaxy itself. 

The study inspired Dr. West to take it further from where it was left. To take a fresh look, she remodelled the map of galaxy by a keeping different point in the middle than conventional approach, where in traditional approach, astronomers kept galactic centre in the middle and North pole of the galaxy up.

Her unusual approach would surely create a stir in astronomy community, added Bryan Gaensler, a professor at the Dunlap Institute.


The tunnel model of Dr. West in revolutionary in the understanding of Galactic magnetic field and related research. Since, she is an expert in magnetism in galaxies and the interstellar medium, she is positive that her research will eventually lead to possible discoveries in the years to come. And with the cutting-edge radio telescopes more in-depth observations and analysis are possible in non-thermal, filamentary structures that are coming under radar.

Via: Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics

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