Stunning New Image Reveals Gigantic 'Ropes' Surrounding a Distant Galaxy

The huge magnetic filaments were clearly detected in the halo of the Whale Galaxy, marking a first for astronomers.
January 3, 2020, 1:00pm
Composite image of the Whale Galaxy. Image: Jayanne English/University of Manitoba
Composite image of the Whale Galaxy. Image: Jayanne English/University of Manitoba

Have you ever wanted to see a galactic space whale with magnetic “hair” that extends into a starry halo? Who hasn’t, right? Fortunately, astronomers have captured images of a cosmic object that genuinely fits this psychedelic description.

The spectacular space shot accompanied a recent study in Astronomy & Astrophysics about the magnetic dynamics of the Whale Galaxy (NGC 4631), which is 25 million light years from Earth. The galaxy is 80,000 light years wide and is oriented with its edge pointed toward our solar system, making it resemble a long whale-shaped band of stars from our perspective.

Advertisement

Because of its unique position, scientists often observe the Whale Galaxy to better understand what is going on in the halos of galaxies, which are round sheaths of stars, small clusters, and gas that encircle galactic disks.

A team led by scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Radioastronomy used the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, a radio observatory in New Mexico, to detect magnetic field lines in the Whale Galaxy’s halo. The results not only revealed these filament patterns, but also mapped out the magnetic field’s reversals and alignments relative to Earth.

The pink and yellow parts of the above image represent the stars within the Whale Galaxy, while the blue and green overlaid features are the magnetic filaments (green represents filaments pointing toward our perspective, while blue lines are pointing away).

“The field reversals in the northern halo of NGC 4631, together with the observed polarization angles, indicate giant magnetic ropes with alternating directions,” the team said in the study. “To our knowledge, this is the first time such reversals are observed in an external galaxy.”

The stunning composite image provides a new glimpse of galactic magnetic processes, plus it’s just plain trippy to look at. Given that it’s been speculated that Herman Melville partly wrote Moby Dick because he was obsessed with a mountain that kind of looked like a whale, who knows what weird creative masterpiece this magnetically jacked space whale will inspire.