Aug 08, 2008
The Braided Filaments of Galaxy M87
The electrical nature of the first "galactic jet"
observed by Curtis in 1918 has been confirmed once again.
Recent Chandra X-ray Observatory composite images of M87, a large active
galaxy in the
Virgo Cluster, have revealed the braided, filamentary nature of its "jet."
Such braiding is the signature of
Birkeland currents in space. Electromagnetic forces pinch the current
channels into long filaments in defiance of
gravity and gas laws.
Multiple currents attract each other when they are far apart but repel each
other when they are close, resulting in pairs of filaments spiraling around
their common axis. This process can repeat, producing "cables" of pairs of pairs
and so on. The cables are
efficient carriers of electrical energy over long distances. For example,
the long filament to the lower right is over 100,000 light-years long.
Strong electrical fields in such galactic sized currents
accelerate charge carriers to near light speed. The galaxy's magnetic field
causes them to emit synchrotron radiation from radio frequencies to x-ray
frequencies. With modern instruments such as radio and x-ray telescopes, we can
now "see" that galaxies are much larger and more active objects than we imagined
when all we could see were the tiny spots of light that our unaided eyes could
electrical circuits that power the galaxies are somewhat chaotic, they can
produce "hot spots," kinks, and various instabilities. "Blobs"
of increased luminosity along the jets appear not to be moving despite the high
speeds of the charge carriers. (See discussion, Section VII D, p. 657, Peratt,
"Evolution of the Plasma Universe, Part 1," in IEEE Transactions on Plasma
Science, Vol. PS-14, No. 6, Dec 1986.)
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