Our Solar System Might be Surrounded by a 'Giant Magnetic Tunnel'

And it's only observable in radio waves.
Chris Young
Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory/Villa Elisa telescope/ESA/Planck Collaboration/Stellarium/Jennifer West via University of Toronto

Our entire solar system might be surrounded by an enormous magnetic tunnel viewable only as radio waves. An astronomer from the University of Toronto, Jennifer West, believes that two objects in space that were previously thought to be separate are, in fact, connected by rope-like filaments, a press statement reveals.

The two objects are the "North Polar Spur" and the "Fan Region", which have typically been studied as individual entities. West and her team, who published their findings in the Astrophysical Journal, believe they are the first group of scientists to connect the two objects as two parts of a whole.

The objects are located about 350 light-years away from us and they are composed of charged particles and a magnetic field in the shape of colossal ropes that are approximately 1,000 light-years across in length. "If we were to look up in the sky," West says, "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."  

Mysterious radio signals abound in space

In order to gain a better understanding of the massive magnetic tunnel enveloping our solar system, West built a computer model calculating differences in the radio sky if the long ropes were in different positions in the night sky. "This is extremely clever work," explains Bryan Gaensler, a professor at the Dunlap Institute and an author on the study. "When Jennifer first pitched this to me, I thought it was too 'out-there' to be a possible explanation. But she was ultimately able to convince me. Now, I’m excited to see how the rest of the astronomy community reacts."

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In effect, West was able to see what the radio sky would look like through our telescopes, helping her to match her model with real-world data. Some of the most intricate maps of the sky to date are thanks to radio wave observations of the universe. A ten-year global collaboration centered on the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope network, for example, has provided us with the most detailed observations of deep space.

Indecipherable radio signals, such as one recently observed that "fits no currently understood pattern" are also at the heart of some of the most mysterious observations of the cosmos. As West puts it, "I think it’s just awesome to imagine that these structures are everywhere whenever we look up into the night sky."