Mysterious, Morse code-like ‘structures’ at center of Milky Way ‘stun’ astronomers

EVANSTON, Ill. — Astronomers have captured hundreds of mysterious filaments pointing towards the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole. They could help uncover secrets about the dark abyss at the center of our galaxy. The strange horizontal strands are 25,000 light years from Earth, with scientists comparing them to the dots and dashes of Morse code — only these appear to be floating through space!

“It was a surprise to suddenly find a new population of structures that seem to be pointing in the direction of the black hole,” says Professor Farhad Yusef-Zadeh of Northwestern University.

“I was actually stunned when I saw these. We had to do a lot of work to establish that we weren’t fooling ourselves. And we found that these filaments are not random but appear to be tied to the outflow of our black hole. By studying them, we could learn more about the black hole’s spin and accretion disk orientation. It is satisfying when one finds order in a middle of a chaotic field of the nucleus of our galaxy,” continues Yusef-Zadeh, a professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, in a university release.

MeerKAT image of the galactic center with color-coded position angles of all filaments.
MeerKAT image of the galactic center with color-coded position angles of all filaments. CREDIT: Farhad Yusef-Zadeh/Northwestern University

Known as Sagittarius A*, the black hole is a staggering four million times the mass of our Sun. Four decades ago, Prof. Yusef-Zadeh discovered nearby vertical threads, towering up to 150 light years high. The new population are much shorter, measuring less than 10 light years in length and lying horizontally. The Morse code-like pattern punctuates only one side of Sagittarius A*.

Last year, the same team revealed nearly 1,000 vertical filaments, which appeared in pairs and clusters, often stacked equally spaced or side-by-side like strings on a harp. The flood of new discoveries is coming from enhanced technology, particularly the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (SARAO) MeerKAT telescope. To pinpoint the filaments, the researchers used a technique to remove the background and smooth the noise from images to isolate them from surrounding structures.

“The new MeerKAT observations have been a game changer,” Yusef-Zadeh says. “The advancement of technology and dedicated observing time have given us new information. It’s really a technical achievement from radio astronomers.”

The Northwestern astronomer was shocked to uncover the horizontal counterparts, estimated to be about six million years-old.

“We have always been thinking about vertical filaments and their origin,” the study author adds. “I’m used to them being vertical. I never considered there might be others along the plane.”

Both groups comprise one-dimensional filaments that scientists can see using radio waves. They appear to be tied to activities in the galactic center. However, the vertical filaments are perpendicular to the galactic plane while those that are horizontal are parallel and point radially toward our galaxy’s black hole.

The former are magnetic and encompass particles moving at speeds near the speed of light. The latter appear to emit thermal radiation, accelerating material in a molecular cloud. There are several hundred vertical strands compared to just a few hundred horizontal ones.

“One of the most important implications of radial outflow that we have detected is the orientation of the accretion disk and the jet-driven outflow from Sagittarius A* along the galactic plane,” Yusef-Zadeh explains.

MeerKAT image of the galactic center with color-coded position angles of the long, vertical filaments.
MeerKAT image of the galactic center with color-coded position angles of the long, vertical filaments. CREDIT: Farhad Yusef-Zadeh/Northwestern University

The new discovery is filled with unknowns and work to unravel its mysteries is just beginning. For now, the study author can only consider a plausible explanation about the new population’s mechanisms and origins.

“We think they must have originated with some kind of outflow from an activity that happened a few million years ago,” Yusef-Zadeh says. “It seems to be the result of an interaction of that outflowing material with objects near it. Our work is never complete. We always need to make new observations and continually challenge our ideas and tighten up our analysis.”

Black holes are formed when a dying star collapses inward under the pressure of its own weight. This leads to a supernova, a star’s extremely powerful explosion. Black holes are places in space where the pull of gravity is so strong that even light can’t escape. This is what makes them invisible. Supermassive black holes can be billions of times the size of our Sun. Astronomers believe they can be found at the center of all large galaxies in the universe.

The study is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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  1. Blathering nonsese. It it a morse cose or not ? what is it saying ? If nothing, Why study it ? $$$ money ? Just stupid and irrelevant

  2. All the world’s missing socks and car-keys, somehow gained sentience and off to oblivion to escape our ego-centrism for once and for all.

  3. I’m in my 70s and getting mighty impatient with how long it is taking physicists to prove string theory exists when it is staring them right in the face per these photos.

  4. This is why when someone, especially a scientist, politician, or bureaucrat, says “trust the science”, you know they are either lying or ignorant. We don’t know jack as this shows. Not just in science, in everything.
    Science, if it’s doing its job, never trusts itself hence the scientific method.
    I say this to point out that especially today with the NEW DISCIPLINE of climate science, and certainly we found out with COVID, trust no one except yourself and think critically.

    1. When you say “trust no one but yourself”, have you ever considered that you are surely not an expert in every field of science, medicine, etc. and thus the sources you choose to believe will be those aligned with your preexisting biases and not necessarily with what is true or accurate.

      Consensus does not mean settled opinion nor should you suspend all skepticism, it means the overwhelming opinion of experts and research is that this is true and if you want to change that consensus with a contrarian opinion, you have a high burden of proof to overcome. Finding a contrarian “expert” voice on the Internet telling you what you want to hear is easy but the notion such people are “truth-tellers” as the government, academia and/or industry misleads you for some corrupt ulterior motive is cynical and misguided.

      I never believed the extreme and hyperbolic apocalyptic doomsday extinction scenarios of the climate alarmists, but plenty of once skeptical climatologists have come around to agreeing with the consensus on the existence of anthropogenically induced climate change because the satellite and other data is overwhelming and is not accounted for by the natural factors.

      As for the vax, everyone knew it was still experimental and had risks, but 1.1m Americans died from COVID related causes and without better options, the vaccines clearly reduced the risk of severe hospitalization and death. Since we live in a society with scarcity of resources and with semi-socialized medicine, “I’ll take my risks” is self-centered and meaningless if you are going to show up to the emergency room when you get deathly sick. Most of the vaxxed didn’t end up deathly sick when COVID was claiming the highest body count. For those aged or those with preexisting conditions, the vaccine probably saved their lives. Antivax is an uneducated POV (that is not to say every vaccine is effective and worth the risks.) Vaccines in general are the only reason any of us exist in the current form as otherwise many of our parents and grandparents would have died young.

      1. The truth matters and way too much has been withheld from us all. We are being manipulated to believe things that are not true and have media outlets censoring out information that has been proven to be true after the facts have been shown to be true. In a real democracy we should all be able to hear all sides of a matter in order for us to make our own choices and give our fully informed consent based upon all information and not just what someone wants us to know.

  5. “Study Finds” touts its journalistic experience but it seems they are just shoveling content without making sense. They should maybe make a phone calll to an astronomer (as I did) to out in oerpectice:
    The “images” they show aren’t real pictures of the radio sky — they’re traces of the filaments they identified. It’s more cleaned up, but also misleading. The science itself is sound, but frankly not that exciting. I can’t imagine someone being stunned by it. I’d say, “oh, hey, that’s kind of cool.” The article itself is an accurate rendition of the press release, but of course with a sensational headline.

  6. Simulation. I’m 82 and a former Psychologist. Loved studying quantum physics and the other sciences as a “hobby”. I’m leaning toward the “simulation” hypothesis. My personal experiences and those of scientists I’ve met as well as just observing my world has led me to question this reality. It is too “unreal”. It appears to me to be artificially structured with flaws. Had a NDE last December. It happened. It can’t be explained by any science I know except if our reality is a simulation. I went outside of this “existence” and into something else that was more real than this computer I’m typing on.

  7. We (including scientists, philosophers, theologians and all points in between) haven’t the slightest idea what we’re looking at, much less the ability to “explain” it in any way comprehensible to the human intellect.
    That’s not a knock, nor a prescription to cease exploring, but a plea to stop pretending that our observations — the heart of the scientific method — need to be or even CAN be explained.

  8. Anyone who uses ‘Consensus’ and ‘science’ in the same sentence is a moron.
    You know that they are ignorant, stupid, and have no idea of the scientific method.

    “Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it.
    Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held.
    Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books.
    Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin.
    Believe nothing just because someone else believes it.
    Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true”
    Buddha – Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta
    The motto of England’s Royal Society, founded in 1660, is “Nullius in verba”: “Take nobody’s word for it.”

    I am an outcast, who refused to believe the Covid experts, I refused vaccination.
    Guess who is laughing now?

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