At the center of this colorful composite image of the central zone of our Milky Way galaxy appears a feature resembling a candy cane. But that’s not a cosmic confection. This spans 190 light-years and is one of a series of long, thin strands of ionized gas that emit radio waves, called filaments.
This image includes newly released observations using a instrument designed and built in Greenbelt, Maryland, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Called the Goddard-IRAM Superconducting 2-Millimeter Observer (GISMO), the instrument was used in concert with a 30-meter radio telescope located in Pico Veleta, Spain, operated by the Millimeter Range Institute in Grenoble, France.
Johannes Staguhn, an astronomer who leads the GISMO team at Goddard at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said, “GISMO observes microwaves with a wavelength of 2 millimeters, allowing us to explore the galaxy in the transition zone between infrared light and longer radio wavelengths. Each of these portions of the spectrum is dominated by different types of emission, and GISMO shows us how they link together.”
GISMO observed the galactic center’s most prominent radio filament, known as the Radio Arc, which is the straight part of the cosmic candy cane. This is the shortest wavelength to detect such curious structures have been observed.
Scientists say the filaments delineate the edges of a large bubble produced at the galactic center by some energetic event, located within the bright area known as Sagittarius A, about 27,000 light-years away. Additional red arcs show other filaments in the image.
Richard Arendt, a Maryland University, Baltimore County and Goddard team member, said. “It was a real surprise to see the Radio Arc in the GISMO data. Its emission comes from high-speed electrons spiraling in a magnetic field, a process called synchrotron emission. Another feature GISMO sees, called the Sickle, is associated with star formation and may be the source of these high-speed electrons.”
Two papers describing the composite image were published in the Astrophysical Journal on November 1st, one led by Arendt and one led by Staguhn.


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