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Is Earth Surrounded by a Giant Magnetic Tunnel? New Findings Suggest Possibility

Sandipan Talukdar |
The new tunnel model brings in a fresh perspective to astronomy about the solar system.

Image is for representational use only.Image Source: Live Science.

Is the Earth and, for that matter, the solar system entrapped by a giant magnetic tunnel? The latest research suggests that it can be true – Earth, the rest of the solar system, and some nearby stars may be entrapped inside a gigantic magnetic tunnel. However, astronomers don’t exactly know why it is so. The magnetic tunnel can be visualised in radio waves.

The research was recently published in Astrophysical Journal and led by Jennifer West, belonging to the Dunlap Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto, Canada.

The new findings reported in West’s research are based upon the existence of two bright structures on opposite sides of the sky, known as the “North Polar Spur” and the “Fan Region”. Scientists have known about these structures for decades, and the bright spots have been considered separate entities in the sky. West and her team showed that these are not separate entities; instead, they are connected and made up of filaments like ropes. The filament connection forms the tunnel around the solar system.

The structures are made up of charged particles and a magnetic field and shaped like long ropes. They are located about 350 light-years away from Earth and are about 1000 light-years in length.

“If we were to look up in the sky, we would see this tunnel-like structure in just about every direction we looked – that is, if we had eyes that could see radio light,” West commented to explain the phenomenon.

The structures considered separate entities so far are connected as a unit for the first time, believe West and her colleagues, which also paves the path for a new discovery about the solar system.

West has been researching these structures for at least 15 years since she observed the radio sky for the first time. The map of the radio sky was the trigger for West to look at the structures more intriguingly and finally deliver the new findings. West built a computer model recently that can calculate how the radio sky appears for someone from Earth. Her computer model could carry out calculations when the long ropes were varied in their positions and shapes.

The model developed by West allowed the research team to build the structure around us and could produce what the sky would look like through the telescopes. This is an entirely new perspective and helped West and her team match the model to the observed data.

West said that an old research paper published in 1965, the days of early radio astronomy, helped her build the new idea. West was quoted to have said in this regard, “A few years ago, one of our co-authors, Tom Landecker, told me about a paper from 1965 – from the early days of radio astronomy. Based on the crude data available at this time, the authors [Mathewson and Milne], speculated that these polarised radio signals could arise from our view of the Local Arm of the galaxy, from inside it.”

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

The usual map of the Earth has the North pole on the top and the equator in the middle. West redrew this map with a different perspective. This is also true with the map of our galaxy. “Most astronomers look at a map with the North pole of the galaxy up and the galactic centre in the middle. An important part that inspired this idea was to remake that map with a different point in the middle,” explained West.

The new tunnel model brings in a fresh perspective to astronomy about the solar system; it is also a groundbreaking concept, according to experts in this field.

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