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Scientific ‘red flag’ reveals new clues about our galaxy

Optical Milky Way image. Credit: Axel Mellinger Figuring out how much energy permeates the center of the Milky Way—a discovery reported in the July 3 edition of the journal Science Advances —could yield new clues to the fundamental source of our galaxy’s power, said L. Matthew Haffner of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The Milky Way’s nucleus thrums with hydrogen that has been ionized, or stripped of its electrons so that it is highly energized, said Haffner, assistant professor of physics & astronomy at Embry-Riddle and co-author of the Science Advances paper. “Without an ongoing source of energy, free electrons usually find each other and recombine to return to a neutral state in a relatively short amount of time,” he explained. “Being able to see ionized gas in new ways should help us discover the kinds of sources that could be responsible for keeping all that gas energized.”

University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student Dhanesh Krishnarao (“DK”), lead author of the Science Advances paper, collaborated with Haffner and UW-Whitewater Professor Bob Benjamin—a leading expert on the structure of stars and gas in the Milky Way. Before joining Embry-Riddle in 2018, Haffner worked as a research scientist for 20 years at UW, and he continues […]

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