Is There a Massive Magnetic Tunnel Around the Solar System? This Scientist Thinks So

by Jennifer Shea

Two structures in outer space that scientists discovered in the 1960s may in fact be one structure that forms a tunnel around our solar system, a Canadian astronomer has suggested.

The North Polar Spur and the Fan Region consist of charged particles. They form a magnetic field stretching like long ropes around our solar system. Both structures sit about 350 light years away from Earth. And they run for about 1,000 light years in length.

University of Toronto astronomer Jennifer West says that if human eyes could see radio light, we would be able to see one coherent structure surrounding our solar system.

“If we were to look up in the sky, we would see this tunnel-like structure in just about every direction we looked,” West said in a press release.

Two Structures Flanking Our Solar System May In Fact Be One

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) describes the North Polar Spur as “the most spectacular coherent structure in the soft X-ray sky.” It is a field of hot gas that gives off X-ray and radio waves. And it stretches from Sagittarius to beyond Centaurus in the night sky.

According to NASA, the ROSAT/PSPC survey managed to totally map the North Polar Spur for the very first time. But there has been some scientific debate about what the structure actually is.

Some scientists have suggested it’s the edge of a nearby formation, the Local Bubble. A cluster of supernova explosions near our solar system created the Local Bubble many years ago, Sky and Telescope reports. Others have pointed out that it overlaps with the Fermi Bubbles, two huge balloons of gamma rays toward the center of our galaxy. So they say it may have something to do with their formation.

Now along comes West. She’s suggesting that the North Polar Spur is actually part of the same supersized structure as the Fan Region. That’s one of the biggest structures in the polarized radio sky. For years, it was thought to be a local phenomenon, but it may be more of a galactic feature.

Using Computers, Scientist Matched Her Model to the Data

West said that one of the co-authors of her new paper, published in The Astrophysical Journal, told her about a 1965 study. The study hypothesized that the structures’ radio signals were coming from inside our galaxy, if not our solar system.

“That paper inspired me to develop this idea and tie my model to the vastly better data that our telescopes give us today,” she said.

Basically, West ended up redrawing the map of our galaxy with a different midpoint. She used computers to match her model to present-day data. Her “tunnel” model posits that the combined magnetic field of the North Polar Spur and Fan Region structures interacts with the magnetic fields of our own planet and sun.

“Magnetic fields don’t exist in isolation,” West said. “They all must to connect to each other. So, a next step is to better understand how this local magnetic field connects both to the larger-scale galactic magnetic field, and also to the smaller scale magnetic fields of our sun and Earth.”