Our galactic center contains a supermassive black hole. X-ray observations have uncovered chimney-like structures centered on the supermassive black hole.

So, an international team of astronomers has discovered two unusual structures known as Fermi bubbles.  You can find them above and below the Galactic plane. These galactic chimneys appear to funnel matter and energy away from the cosmic fireworks in the Milky Way’s center, about 28,000 light-years from Earth.

“We call these the chimneys,” lead study author Gabriele Ponti, a researcher at the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Italy, told Live Science. “Looking at them, we see clear evidence for a strong outflow of plasma from the galactic center.”

The bubbles are filled with highly energetic particles moving at close to the speed of light, which were released from the Galactic Centre a few million years ago. They have a total luminosity about a million times greater than that of the Sun.

Researchers published their study on March 21 in the journal Nature.

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To better understand what becomes of that outflow of energy, astronomer pointed the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite, which detects cosmic X-rays, toward the center of the Milky Way. X-rays are very useful for mapping energetic environments in space because extreme hot gas emits them.

The authors used more than 750 hours of X-ray observations to obtain the first detailed X-ray map of the central region of our Galaxy, an area of around 300 × 500 parsecs.

The map shows two elongated, quasi-linear structures. Each about 160 parsecs in length, above and below the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Ponti et al. name these two structures the northern and southern Galactic Centre chimneys.

The similarities between the northern and southern chimneys suggest they have a common origin. Most probably connected to the galactic center.

Some astronomers suspect that the Fermi bubbles are relics of massive eruptions from the supermassive black hole. Others think hordes of new-born stars blow these bubbles. Either way, the chimneys could be the conduits through which high-speed particles get there.

Understanding how energy flows from the center of the galaxy to its outer limits can help us understand why some galaxies are bursting with star formation whereas others are dormant.

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Thumbnail image: Galactic chimneys (yellow-orange areas) lie on the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. This is a false-color image. Credit: Gabriele Ponti/MPE/INAF and Mark Morris/UCLA