Is our planet surrounded by a giant magnetic tunnel? Let’s find out
A Dunlap Institute astronomer is speculating that our solar system may be surrounded by a magnetic tunnel that can be seen in radio waves, according to a press release by the institution published October 14.
Rope-like filaments surrounding our planet
Dr. Jennifer West, Research Associate at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, is claiming that the two bright structures seen on opposite sides of the sky that were previously considered to be separate are actually connected. They are further made of rope-like filaments that form a tunnel around our solar system.
“If we were to look up in the sky,” explains West, “we would see this tunnel-like structure in just about every direction we looked – that is, if we had eyes that could see radio light.”
Called “the North Polar Spur” and “the Fan Region,” we’ve known about these two structures for a long time. “Since the 60s,” said West. However, up until now, most scientific theories have focused on them individually. West and her colleagues are the first astronomers to consider them as a single unit.
West has been studying these features for 15 years but has only recently built a computer model that can calculate what these structures would look like from Earth. This model enabled West to “build” the structure around us and gave her a new perspective that helped her to match the model to the data.
“A few years ago, one of our co-authors, Tom Landecker, told me about a paper from 1965, from the early days of radio astronomy,” West said. “Based on the crude data available at this time, the authors (Mathewson & Milne), speculated that these polarized radio signals could arise from our view of the Local Arm of the Galaxy, from inside it.”
“That paper inspired me to develop this idea and tie my model to the vastly better data that our telescopes give us today.”
A whole new map
To make her concept practical and understandable, West used the Earth’s map as an example. For now, on our planet, the North pole is on the top and the Equator is through the middle. But that map can always be re-drawn from a different perspective. The same can be done for our Galaxy.
“Most astronomers look at a map with the North pole of the Galaxy up and the Galactic center in the middle,” she explained. “An important part that inspired this idea was to remake that map with a different point in the middle.”
What inspired her to achieve this was her vast knowledge of magnetic fields and how they operate.
“Magnetic fields don’t exist in isolation,” she said. “They all must to connect to each other. So a next step is to better understand how this local magnetic field connects both to the larger-scale Galactic magnetic field, and also to the smaller scale magnetic fields of our Sun and Earth.”
“I think it’s just awesome to imagine that these structures are everywhere, whenever we look up into the night sky.”
Could the solution to interstellar travel be to take as much of Earth as we can with us?