Astronomers have discovered a distant galaxy that’s giddily blowing bubbles like a toddler with a glass of chocolate milk. Unlike milk bubbles, however, these two huge galactic balloons are filled with gas, stretch a few thousand light-years across and appear to be crackling with charged particles 100 times more energetic than any found on Earth.
Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, researchers detected the bubbles jiggling near the center of a galaxy named NGC 3079, located about 67 million light-years away from Earth. Bubbles like these are known as “superbubbles” because, well, they’re supersized. According to the team’s study in the Feb. 28 issue of The Astrophysical Journal, one of the newly discovered bubbles measures 4,900 light-years across, and the other measures 3,600 light-years across. (For comparison, the diameter of Neptune’s orbit around the sun is about 5.6 billion miles, or 9 billion kilometers — one-thousandth of one light-year.)
Superbubbles form when powerful shock waves shove the gases released by stars far into space, leaving a bubble-shaped cavity behind. Scientists still don’t fully understand how these massive gas cavities form.