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No. 35: Sep-Oct 1984

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Galactic radiation belt?

Both Jupiter and the earth boast radiation belts consisting of electrically charged particles tethered by the planet's magnetic fields. Recent radio astronomical studies of the Milky Way reveal long filaments of ionized gas about 150 light years long curving up out of the galactic disk, at a point about 30,000 light years from earth. These filaments emit radio energy just like the planetary radiation belts and are presumably held in the grip of a galactic magnetic field. There have been previ-ous hints of a weak and disorganized galactic magnetic field, but this is the first evidence for a strong polar field in our own Milky Way or any other galaxy.

The unexpected filaments were discovered by in a study of star formation in the core of the Milky Way. The radio energy emitted by the belts was originally thought to come from the galactic machinery that makes new stars; but now it looks like that machinery is not grinding out nearly as many new stars as once thought.

(Thompsen, D.E.; "Galactic Dynamoism: A Radiation Belt?" Science News, 126:20, 1984.)

From Science Frontiers #35, SEP-OCT 1984. � 1984-2000 William R. Corliss