NASA telescopes have captured a stunning image of two cosmic "superbubbles" in an alien galaxy millions of light years away.
Unlike bubbles on Earth, which consist of a thin film of liquid enclosing a small volume of air or other gas, bubbles in space are composed of a lighter gas inside a heavier one.
Astronomers believe superbubbles are formed when the infall of matter into a supermassive black hole leads to the release of enormous amounts of energy in the form of particles and magnetic fields.
They may also be sculpted by winds flowing from a large number of young, massive stars, scientists claim.
The two superbubbles in the picture stretch out on opposite sides of a galaxy known as NGC 3079, located about 67 million light years from Earth.
One is 4,900 light years (or about 30 million billion miles) across. The other is only slightly smaller, with a diameter of about 3,600 light years.
The picture is a composite image, combining X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (shown in purple) and optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (shown in orange and blue).
New observations from Chandra show that ultra-energetic particles are being produced in the rims of the superbubbles.
These particles can be much more energetic than those created by Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful human-made particle accelerator.
Astronomers believe that these superbubbles may be the source of extremely energetic cosmic rays, which are not rays but high-energy particles that regularly bombard the Earth.
Shock waves – akin to sonic booms caused by supersonic planes – associated with supernova explosions can accelerate particles up to energies about 100 times larger than those generated in the Large Hadron Collider, but astronomers are uncertain about where even more energetic cosmic rays come from.
This new result suggests superbubbles may be one source of these ultra-energetic cosmic rays.
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