Astronomers have registered the largest shock wave in the universe – it is 60 times larger than the Milky Way

Astronomers have managed to get a clear picture of the largest shock wave in the universe in the radio field. The wave, whose length is about 60 times larger than the Milky Way galaxy, has been speeding through space at a speed close to the speed of light for 200 million years. According to researchers, it arose as a result of the collision between two galaxy clusters. Details of this study were published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.


Image source: Francesco de Gasperin / SARAO

The said study by astronomers is associated with the object Abell 3667, which is located at a distance of about 730 million light-years from Earth and is a cluster of galaxies. In fact, Abell 3667 consists of two galaxy clusters that have collided with each other. In total, more than 550 individual galaxies are involved in this process, which slowly “mixes” and turns into a huge cosmic “bowl”. This is not visible in most telescopes, but as a result of the collision of galaxy clusters, a major disturbance occurred – a giant shock wave coming out from both sides of the merged galaxy cluster and visible only in the radio area.

As part of the study, researchers used the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa. With its help, astronomers obtained images of both halves of the radio component in the shock wave and also found that these structures have a much more complex structure than assumed on the basis of previous observations.

“Shock waves act as giant particle accelerators and accelerate electrons to the speed of light. The waves are dashed with an intricate pattern of light filaments that help track the location of giant magnetic field lines and areas where electrons accelerate.”– one of the authors of the study, Francesco de Gasperin, commented on this question.

According to scientists, the shock wave occurred about 1 billion years ago, when the collision of galaxy clusters that make up Abell 3667. Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitational structures in the universe. When two such objects merge, such an enormous amount of energy is released that has not been seen since the Big Bang.

When the wave fired electrons into space at near the speed of light, the particles tore apart the magnetic fields in that part of the universe, sending out arcs of radio waves that scientists can observe today. According to the researchers, these arcs move at a speed of about 5.3 million km / s and are at a distance of about 13 million light-years from each other. At the same time, the length of each such wave is 60 times larger than the Milky Way galaxy, whose diameter is about 100 thousand light-years.

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