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The life of the people and civilizations is so short in comparison with the life of the stars that the sky seems to be eternal and immutable. But it is not. At any time between now and the next 100,000 years, the star Betelgeuse will disappear from the firmament with a supernova that will be as bright as a full Moon for several months. And the same is true when you go back in time. Our ancestors that walked on two legs saw something extraordinary in the heart of the Milky Way that today we can only imagine.

Makes about 3.5 billion years ago, Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole that lies at the core of the galaxy, issued a huge burst of energy that made it shine in the center of the Milky Way with a ghostly light for a million years and that ionizó large amounts of material in the Stream of Magellan. At that time, australopithecus walked by the depression of the Afar in the horn of Africa. The details about what happened have been published recently in the journal “Astrophysical Journal”.

The flash was so powerful that it lit up the Stream of Magellan –a ribbon of gas that binds the Milky Way with two small galaxies in the outskirts– like a Christmas tree,” he explained in a statement from NASA Andrew Fox, principal investigator of the Space Telescope Science Institute, the operations center of the space telescopes Hubble and James Webb, in Baltimore, Maryland (USA). “It was a cataclysmic event!”.

A cataclysmic event in Sagittarius A*

data from The Hubble space telescope have allowed to reveal that a large cloud of hydrogen , 100,000 solar masses, it was swallowed by the Sagittarius A* , causing a violent burst of energy. This explosion launched two cones of the uv-radiation up and down from the plane of the galaxy that generated two structures that are known today with the name of bubbles from Fermi.

These bubbles, which reach an extent of 30,000 light years, were discovered by the space telescope Fermi in 2010. Already in 2015, the Hubble was able to measure their speed of expansion and the composition, revealing much about its possible origins.

A shock to the galactic

Now, the research led by Andrew Fox has allowed to investigate what other effects it caused this cataclysm . According to have concluded, the radiation from the south pole of the black hole “came up” with the gas Stream of Magellan, a ribbon of hydrogen that connects the Milky Way with the Magellanic clouds, two galaxies located in the outskirts, despite the huge distance that you are.

While the Current of Magellan is located 200,000 light years from the center of the galaxy, the front of the bubbles from Fermi is barely 30,000 light years. Why: “we Always thought that the bubbles of Fermi and the Current Magellan were separate and not related,” said Elaine Frazer , co-author of the work. “Now we see the same outburst from the central black hole played an important role in the evolution of both”.

A violent explosion occurred millions of years ago ionizó the gas Stream of Magellan (in red). What they have found after comparing the light of several galaxies filtered by this current and by the “Arm Advanced” (“Leading Arm”), located outside of the influence of this outbreak – NASA, ESA and L. Hustak (STSNcI)

The energy released by the explosion of the supermassive black hole ripped the electron –ionizó– a good part of the hydrogen that was part of this Stream of Magellan, enough to power 100 million suns. Furthermore, it resulted in a ghostly glow visibile in the night sky.

As explained Andrew Fox, “this tells us that different regions of the galaxy are united : what happens in the centre influences what happens in the Stream of Magellan. Therefore, we are learning about the impact that the black holes in the galaxy and its environment,” he summed up.

To reach these conclusions, the Fox team took advantage of the capabilities of the Hubble space telescope to observe in the range of ultraviolet radiation. In particular, they studied the radiation coming from the core of 21 galaxies located just behind the Current Magellan , which is ionizó with the explosion from Sagittarius A*. They also studied the radiation from 10 galaxies located behind the “Arm Advanced, the other gas stream that is not influenced by the burst of energy. Thanks to that detail, they were able to compare both and discover evidence of the ionization of the Current of Magellan.