Stunning new photo of the centre of our galaxy reveals new mystery

Chandra and its new masterpiece.
Chandra and its new masterpiece. Photo credit: NASA/CXC/UMass/Q.D. Wang/Getty Images

An astronomer has released a stunning new image of the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, revealing a never-seen-before phenomenon he's not sure how to explain.

University of Massachusetts Amherst astronomer Daniel Wang's image was shot using NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which can see things even the mighty Hubble Space Telescope can't.

"We know the centers of galaxies are where the action is and play an enormous role in their evolution," he said.

But it's obscured by gas, fog and dust. 

The new image - which looks like it could have come right out of the 'stargate' sequence in classic sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, shows an enormous thread of X-rays dubbed G0.17-0.41 near the massive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A*.

The centre of our galaxy, in X-rays.
The centre of our galaxy, in X-rays. Photo credit: NASA/CXC/UMass/Q.D. Wang

"This thread reveals a new phenomenon," said Dr Wang. "This is evidence of an ongoing magnetic field reconnection event."

That's when two opposing magnetic fields are forced together and combine with one another, releasing an enormous amount of energy, he explained. "It's a violent process."

A much smaller version of it is responsible for solar flares and aurora. 

Dr Wang says the discovery raises many questions, and it just the "tip of the reconnection iceberg" further research will have to uncover.

"What is the total amount of energy outflow at the center of the galaxy? How is it produced and transported? And how does it regulate the galactic ecosystem?"

The research behind the image was published in journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.