Editorial Science (EFE).- An international team of astronomers has detected the magnetic field of a galaxy so far away that its light, which has taken more than 11,000 million years to reach us, is from when the universe was only 2,500 million years old. years.
This discovery is not only astonishing, but will also provide astronomers with vital information about how the magnetic fields of galaxies like our own Milky Way arose.
“Our galaxy and other galaxies are entwined by magnetic fields that span tens of thousands of light-years,” said James Geach, professor of astrophysics at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom and lead author of the study.
However, “despite being quite important because of how they influence the evolution of galaxies, we know very little about how these fields are formed,” added Enrique López Rodríguez, a researcher at Stanford University (United States), who also has participated in the study.
Astronomers don’t know when in the early life of the universe or how quickly magnetic fields form in galaxies, because until now, they have only mapped the magnetic fields of galaxies close to us.
Now, using the ALMA antenna array, Geach and his team have discovered a fully formed magnetic field in a distant galaxy, with a structure similar to that of nearby galaxies. The details have been published this Wednesday in the journal Nature.
A magnetic field approximately one thousand times weaker than Earth’s
According to the article, its magnetic field is about a thousand times weaker than Earth’s, but extends over 16,000 light-years, a discovery that “provides new clues about how magnetic fields form on a galactic scale.” , Geach has assured.
Observing a fully developed magnetic field so early in the history of the universe indicates that magnetic fields spanning entire galaxies can form rapidly while young ones are still growing.
The team believes that intense star formation in the early universe could have played a role in accelerating the development of the fields.
Furthermore, these fields can in turn influence how subsequent generations of stars will form.
“New window” into the inner workings of galaxies
For co-author and European Southern Observatory (ESO) astronomer Rob Ivison, the discovery opens “a new window into the inner workings of galaxies, because magnetic fields are linked to the material that is forming new stars.”
To carry out the study, the team searched for light emitted by dust grains from the distant galaxy 9io9 (discovered when a BBC program called on citizens to sift through millions of images for distant galaxies).
Galaxies are full of dust, and when there is a magnetic field, the grains tend to align and the light they emit becomes polarized (oscillates). ALMA detected and mapped a polarized signal from 9io9, confirming for the first time the presence of a magnetic field in a very distant galaxy.
“No other telescope could have done it,” Geach said.
Astronomers are confident that with this and future observations of distant magnetic fields, they can begin to unravel the mystery of how these important galactic features form.