3.5 million years ago the Milky Way exploded massively

Pablo Tucker
October 8, 2019

The researchers used data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope to calculate when the massive explosion took place.

The so-called Seyfert flare produce two "ionization cones", which expanded as they radiated across the Milky Way.

Lisa Kewley, director of Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D), a project involving global astronomers studying the mysteries of the universe, said: "A massive blast of energy and radiation came right out of the galactic centre and into the surrounding material.

The discovery that the Milky Way's centre was more dynamic than previously thought can lead to a complete reinterpretation of its evolution. EarthSky contextualized it nicely by noting that, when this flare occurred, dinosaurs had already been extinct for well over 63 million years.

An artist's impression of the massive bursts of ionizing radiation exploding from the center of the Milky Way and impacting the Magellanic Stream.

We're lucky, mostly. The huge flare seems to have exploded "up and down" from the galactic plane, rather than across the galaxy.

"It's an incredible thought that, when cave people walked the Earth, if they'd looked off in the direction of the galactic center, they'd have seen some kind of giant ball of heated gas", Bland-Hawthorn said in a video accompanying the study.

This black hole blast phenomenon is known as a Seyfert flare.

Although the Milky Way, which happens to be home to our Solar System, has always been considered inactive, a new study reveals that a titanic explosion took place that was so strong that a radiation flare sprang like a lighthouse beam into deep space while our ancient ancestors were wandering in Africa.

Before this collision, Milky Way may devour the large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), and experts believe that this cosmic event will happen in the next 2.5 billion years. From our vantage point on Earth, the Magellanic Stream spreads across half of the night sky as it surges through space some 200,000 light-years away.

It's estimated to have lasted for around 300,000 years, which is extremely short in galactic terms.

"These results dramatically change our understanding of the Milky Way", says Magda Guglielmo from the University of Sydney in Australia.

The Australian-US research team says the explosion was too big to have been triggered by anything other than nuclear activity associated with the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. And although Sagittarius A remains the prime suspect, more research is needed.

An enormous energy flare ripped through our galaxy 3.5 million years ago, a team of scientists has discovered. "We are the witness to the awakening of the sleeping beauty".

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